Bryan Habana (AP)
Twickenham – South Africa wing Bryan Habana has had many great days in a Springbok shirt but Saturday’s 20-18 World Cup semi-final defeat by New Zealand was not one of them.
Not only did his side lose and Habana fail to set a new record for most tries in a World Cup career, his second-half sin-binning gave the reigning champions a man advantage at a key stage of the match.
A rainy day at Twickenham in a typically brutal clash between arch-rivals New Zealand and South Africa was no place to be a record-chasing back.
Yet that was the position the two left wings, Habana and New Zealand’s Julian Savea, found themselves in.
Habana needed one more try to break New Zealand great Jonah Lomu’s overall World Cup record of 15 and top Australia legend David Campese’s career Test tally of 64 – the most international tries by a player from a leading nation and a total bettered only by the 69 scored by Japan’s Daisuke Ohata.
Meanwhile, Savea wanted one more try to break the record of eight tries at a single World Cup he held jointly with New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu (1999) and Habana (2007).
In a bruising first half, the world champion All Blacks deployed Savea as a second receiver in-field rather than letting him roam on the touchline.
Habana’s most notable contribution in the opening period was to be caught out of position for New Zealand flank Jerome Kaino’s opening try.
The South Africa great, a World Cup winner in 2007, then prematurely charged Dan Carter’s conversion, with the flyhalf adding the extra points at the second attempt.
Indeed the closest a wing on either side came to a try in the opening period was when the Springboks’ JP Pietersen intercepted inside his own 22 and set off only for French referee Jerome Garces to have blown up for a South Africa penalty.
Early in the second half, Habana chasing a kick ahead, conceded a penalty by pushing Nehe Milner-Skudder when the All Blacks right wing did not have the ball – an act jeered by the massed ranks of New Zealand fans in the ground.
Handling was becoming increasingly difficult and it was no surprise when Savea, trying to regather a low chip ahead down by his ankles, knocked on in sight of the Springbok line.
Relentless New Zealand pressure did create an overlap out wide on the left that led to a try but the move was finished by replacement back Beauden Barrett, on for Milner-Skudder who went off after Habana’s shove.
As if conceding a converted try, which saw New Zealand into a 17-12 lead was not bad enough, the Springboks saw Habana sin-binned for deliberately knocking the ball away from All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith earlier in the move.
Savea then made some useful late carries as the All Blacks held on.
Both Habana and Savea are set to have one more chance to post new records this World Cup, with the third-place playoff and final still to come.