Bryan Habana considered moving to another club for a swansong season before he announced his retirement this week.
The Springbok flier, who has not played a competitive game since April 2017, said he was “humbled by the response” to his decision to bring an end to a glittering 16-year professional career at the end of the season. He said that his retirement came after months of fighting to get back into the squad after recovering from a knee injury.
“I started training normally again five months ago … but [team selection is] the coach’s choice,” Habana told a press conference ahead of Toulon’s Top 14 match against Castres Olympique on Saturday. “The medical team told me I was ready to play.
“I’ve fought to play one last time in this jersey. It’s been a bit difficult for me because I’ve worked very hard for months to play again. Fabien Galthié … thinks I’m not 100%, that’s how it is.”
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He said his growing family prompted him to call a halt to his playing career once it became clear he was not central to Galthie’s plans for Toulon. “I looked to see if there were any opportunities to play one last full season at another club. But I also had to think about my family. I talked a lot about it with my wife. It was the right decision.”
Despite his disappointment, Habana remained philosophical. “It’s hard but it’s the coach’s job and I know it’s not easy being a coach. We have a lot of world-class players like Chris Ashton, Semi Radradra, Josua Tuisova…
“I understand it can be like that, even if I think I could have played one last time for my club. It’s a shame, but that’s life. That’s the way it is. All players want to keep playing, but right now it’s not possible.”
Habana said he would take a break before deciding what to do next, but refused to rule out a return to rugby in some capacity. “Obviously I’ve gained a lot of experience in the last 16 years and I wouldn’t like that to disappear, so maybe I’ll do consultancy either in Europe or back in South Africa.
“But, at this moment, I’m probably looking towards going into the business world – exactly what that is I’m not 100% sure yet. Maybe a bit of punditry work at some stage.
“For the moment I want to take it all in – take in the last 16 years, give myself a bit of a mental break. Even though I haven’t been playing matchdays for the past 12 months, I’ve been training just as much as anyone else, if not more.
“I think I can look back at my career with a lot of pride, but I don’t want to rush into anything because the life after is a long one and, for myself and my family, I’ll try and make a the right decision.
“We’ll enjoy the summer on the Cote d’Azur because right now it’s raining and cold in Cape Town. And it will allow me to take the time to settle everything well with the club. And then it’ll be like a transition to my next life. Because my life will go on.”
He looked back on the Toulon stage of his career with pride. “My first season here was the best. There were so many world-class players. Wilkinson, Botha, Williams… And we did the double.
“I really enjoy the French culture. The language is not easy, and I think my son, who is a few months old, speaks it better than I do because he goes to nursery.”
Despite an international career that included a World Cup win and a series victory over the British and Irish Lions, it was his debut that brings back the happiest memories. “It was 2004 for my first selection with the Springboks. We played England at Twickenham. I was 21 and scored with my first touch. That’s something I’ll never forget.”
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