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09th Aug 2022

“He was incredible” – Bryan Habana on why Joe Rokocoko was the greatest winger he ever faced

Patrick McCarry

Bryan Habana

“He had a skill-set that made the game feel effortless.”

Bryan Habana scored a staggering 67 Test tries in his Springbok career, with 15 coming in World Cup games, a record he shares with the great Jonah Lomu.

The South African missed playing Test rugby against Lomu by just 18 months, but he still faced a heap of talented and lethal wingers when he pulled on the Bok jersey.

We caught up with Habana when he was helping to judge the EPCR Player of the Year, and asked him about the toughest wingers he ever faced off against. The first name he mentioned is a guy that only ever played five Test matches, but left his shuddering impression on many of the world’s best players.

“I’m pretty lucky that I got to play with some classy wingers, in my time. I’m in a WhatsApp group with a couple of my mates, and there’s a good few rugby players. We would chatting a lot in it, and sharing videos.

“Funnily enough, Rene Ranger seemed to bounce at least three or four guys in the group! That just shows you the physicality he had.”

Ranger is most known for his club rugby stints with Northland, Auckland Blues in Super Rugby and Montpellier in Top 14, as well as playing some Sevens, too. He has six Test appearances for the All Blacks, but moving to France at the age of 26 cut short his international career.

“He was incredible” – Bryan Habana on All Blacks legend

When it comes to the greatest winger he has ever pitted his rugby wits against, Bryan Habana mulled over to other All Blacks before settling on a guy that, at one stage, looked set to smash their try-scoring record.

“I was fortunate enough to play against top wingers like Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley Cooper, when he played a bit of wing,” said Habana.

“Still, for me, the All Black wingers were on a different level and one player in particular was Joe Rokocoko. You had Dougie Howlett and Sitiveni Sivivatu, but Joe was phenomenal. He had a skill-set that made the game feel effortless. He was incredible.”

Joe Rokocoko playing for the All Blacks at the 2007 World Cup. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

Joe Rokocoko and his impressive strike-rate

Following New Zealand’s quarter final exit at the 2007 World Cup, Joe Rokocoko remained with the Blues as he set his sights on helping his country win at the next tournament, four years on, when they would be hosts.

At that stage, the winger had registered an astounding 43 tries in 48 Test appearances. He was only 24-years-old and it looked a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ he would shoot past Doug Howlett’s All Black try-scoring record of 49.

As it turned out, though, Rokocoko would only scored three more tries in his final 20 Test outings and be dropped from the squad before that 2011 World Cup, which New Zealand would go on to win. He moved to Bayonne in 2012 before seeing out his club career with Racing 92, and hanging up his boots in 2019.

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