Tue, Oct 23, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Habana named IRB Player of the Year

'BOKS TO THE WALL Winger Bryan Habana is player of the year, Jake White is coach of the year, they're the team of the year, but the South African government is unhappy

AGENCIES , PARIS AND JOHANNESBURG

Winger Bryan Habana, who helped South Africa win the World Cup, was named IRB Player of the Year on Sunday.

Habana scored a record-equaling eight tries in the tournament though he was unable to add to his tally in a tight final the Springboks won by beating England 15-6 at the Stade de France on Saturday.

South Africa's Jake White, whose team were the only unbeaten side in the tournament, was voted coach of the year and the Springboks took the team award.

The other four nominees for the award were Argentine pair Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martin Hernandez, France center Yannick Jauzion and New Zealand flanker and captain Richie McCaw, last year's winner.

Habana, who started out as a scrumhalf, is a fast and powerful runner who equaled the eight-try record that New Zealand wing Jonah Lomu set at the 1999 World Cup.

The 24-year-old also helped the Bulls beat the Sharks 20-19 in the all-South African Super 14 final in Durban in May, scoring one of their tries.

Contepomi was the tournament's second-highest scorer with a tally of 91, having added 19 points including two tries to his total in Argentina's 34-10 win over France in Friday's third-place playoff.

He was second only to South Africa fullback Percy Montgomery, who kicked 12 of the Springboks' points in the final.

Flyhalf Hernandez was at the tactical fulcrum of Argentina's remarkable tournament in which they won six of their seven matches, his kicking reaching a zenith with three superb drop goals in the 30-15 pool-winning victory over Ireland.

McCaw departed the World Cup early when favorites New Zealand went out at the quarter-final stage for the first time, beaten by France.

The French were unable to build on that victory and failed to reach the final, losing their semi-final 14-9 to defending champions England.

They may be the team of they year, but the Springboks have few illusions that their new status will stave off a renewed push by the South African government to overhaul the team's racial composition.

Even before their arrival back home, scheduled for today, politicians have mixed their words of praise with a warning they expect the World Cup final victory will act as a springboard to genuine racial transformation in a team that featured just two colored players in Saturday's starting line-up.

Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile said the 'Boks squandered the opportunity after their first title triumph in 1995 to make the game truly representative of the country's racial mix and a repeat failure was unacceptable.

"This victory should herald a new era -- an era in which we all embrace change and tackle the challenges still being faced by our rugby and sport in general," Stofile said.

"Our victory during the 1995 World Cup offered us a window to see what South Africa can be. We did not build on that. May we not commit the same error after this second chance," he said.

The debate about so-called racial quotas has been raging ever since 1995.

The national rugby team has made considerably less progress towards what the government calls "transformation" than cricket, while Super 14 teams rarely feature more than four players of color.

At one stage, the head of parliament's sports committee even suggested the 'Boks' passports be impounded unless they became more representative.

Although government bit its lip during the tournament, it would not have gone unnoticed by South African President Thabo Mbeki as he shook the hands of the winners and losers that England had as many players of color as South Africa, a nation with an 85 percent black population.

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