When Springbok coach Allister Coetzee named his 31-man squad to face France on Tuesday he tacitly broke the news that three stalwarts’ Test careers are over.
Bryan Habana‚ Schalk Burger and JP Pietersen‚ with a collective 280 Test caps and all playing club rugby in the northern hemisphere‚ were overlooked‚ indicating that their time is up in the international arena.
None of the trio of 2007 World Cup winners has officially announced their Test retirement but Coetzee’s selection made it clear that his focus is on rewarding local‚ up and-comers in positions he feels he has adequate cover.
The same goes for hooker Bismarck du Plessis and tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis.
They too are survivors from one of Springbok rugby’s greatest moments a decade ago‚ but are now surplus to requirements.
Habana‚ 33‚ made it clear before last year’s ill-fated Italian Test on Florence that he was under increasing pressure to commit more wholeheartedly to French club side Toulon.
“When I first moved to Toulon they new that I still wanted to play for the Springboks‚ which I stipulated in my contract‚” Habana told Times Media Group last November.
“Toulon are a little unhappy with me. Over the past four years I have missed about 32 games due to my Springbok commitments.
“I understand their frustration because I’m never involved in the first part of the season. It will be something I take into consideration when I make decisions about the future.”
His Toulon contract expires next month and Habana is likely to stay on for one more year at least.
The flying wing has played 124 Tests and scored a record 67 Test tries – the most by a player from a tier one nation.
He needs just three more tries to surpass the overall Test try-scoring record‚ currently in the possession of Japan’s Daisuke Ohata on 69. That is now unlikely.
During the conversation last year Habana indicated that he understood it was time for the next generation of players to start coming through.
“I will talk to Allister at a later date and see if he stills sees a role for me and I’m sure that conversation will consider guys like Jamba Ulengo and Sergeal Petersen and what their roles might be for the Springboks in the future‚” Habana said.
“I’ve enjoyed passing on my experience to them.
“I would like to contribute to the Boks in any way‚ even if that is off the field.”
When Burger‚ 34‚ took up a contract with Saracens in 2016‚ he would not confirm whether he was retiring from Test rugby.
But by taking on the Saracens contract in the twilight of his career‚ there was a tacit acceptance that his illustrious 86-cap Test career was over. With the latest squad announcement‚ it has all but been confirmed.
At 30‚ Pietersen has just enjoyed a productive season with English club side Leicester Tigers.
He’s too young and too good to be chucked on the Test scrapheap just yet‚ especially at a time when SA is crying out for big wings to combat the All Blacks in particular.
With 70 Test caps and 24 tries he could still offer experience and a proven track record packed in his 1.91m‚ 105kg frame.
Like Habana‚ Pietersen was used in Coetzee’s first season in charge. His performances were patchy‚ but so were the entire team’s during a season the Boks won only 33% of their matches.
For now he seems to be out of favour‚ but unlike Burger and Habana‚ Pietersen is still young enough to earn a Test reprieve.