SPRINGBOKS winger Bryan Habana has claimed that Scottish rugby’s policy of “project signings” will strengthen the national team and rugby north of the Border in general
While expressing some concern at the likes of WP Nel, Josh Strauss and Cornell Du Preez – who missed out on South Africa caps – moving to Scotland and immediately being linked with a future cap appearance in dark blue, 2007 world player of the year Habana claimed it would help the international scene remain even more competitive.
Asked about caps being the real enticement for some countrymen, Habana, who will line up against the Scots in Sunday’s viagogo Autumn Test at Murrayfield, admitted: “It is a bit of a worry (from a Springbok perspective). You can’t always please everyone.
“When an opportunity arises for a player to maybe go to another country when he might not have got a look-in for the Springbok jumper and get international colours . . . it will only prove how much wealth and depth there is in South African rugby talent.
“It might be disappointing he is not wearing the green and gold but to come out here, do the hard work, and eventually after three or four years get an opportunity to wear an international jumper is only gratitude for a lot of hard work done.”
That is very much the player’s viewpoint and understandably so even though it confirms that international honours can be given out for services rendered rather than as an affair of the heart.
But the quality of the talent heading over from Africa isn’t in doubt even if there is concern within the Scottish game at the process being adopted.
Endorsing the quality of player involved, Habana referred to South Africa’s main internal competition and said: “It might be a bit of a worry for South Africa but the Scots can gain a lot. A player like Josh Strauss (Glasgow), who went on to lead the (Golden) Lions to the Currie Cup a couple of years back, has experience that can be lent in terms of a winning culture. That can improve the team he is playing for and improve Scottish rugby.”
Toulon-based Habana added: “We’ve seen a huge improvement in French leagues with the amount of international imports they have been getting.”
On the exodus to Europe generally, Habana said: “The belief is for some of our players to come over to the Northern Hemisphere and get tested in different conditions. That has been a big pulling factor.
“It is something that is being looked at quite strongly with the large amount of players going overseas.
“There again you can’t stop a player wanting to experience something different.
“The Scottish culture and the type of rugby that gets played over here is pretty enjoyable to South Africans.
“Weather conditions are not the same as back home but it makes for a great challenge.”
Habana gained the second of his 93 caps against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2004 and celebrated with two tries in a 45-10 win. However, the most recent encounter between the sides, in Nelspruit last summer, saw the Springboks forced to come from behind at the interval before winning 30-17.
Recalling that occasion, Habana said: “We probably got caught off guard a little bit by the physicality the Scots brought to the field after our resounding win against Italy.
“The Scots came to prove that they are not a team to make up numbers and last weekend they had a pretty impressive win in the last 20 minutes.
“Playing at home in conditions that suit them, the Scots are definitely going to be a team you not only have to respect before the game but in the game, too. The breakdown can be a big part; it is where the Scots had a big influence in that last Test match back in June.”
Since that Nelspruit showdown, the Boks have played eight Tests to Scotland’s one and should be more up to speed.
However, Habana takes nothing for granted, saying of last weekend’s win in Wales: “We managed to get three tries last week but there were a lot of components in our game we weren’t really pleased with . . . one or two lucky bounces saw us eventually beat Wales.
“Again this week, having a good start is going to be pretty important.
“A lot of the guys are not used to playing at three o’clock in the afternoon so it is going to be a short day and the mental preparation going into this game is going to be important.
“We are playing a side who are not going to take the field lying down. They are going to continue fighting.
“The 2010 fixture (which Habana missed) was a loss for South Africa and there’s a lot of pride from the Scots.
“If you are not at your best and prepared to go all the way for 85 minutes you might find yourself on the wrong side of the scoreline.”