The moment Springbok legend Bryan Habana walked into a recent function at the British Embassy, his erstwhile teammate Jean de Villiers recognised immediately the one element of life after professional rugby that all players need to come to terms with. Clothing.
“The only thing I could fit into was my old number two Springbok suit. As I got to the function Jean saw the suit and said, ‘Whoa’. He opened my suit jacket and said, ‘This is one of your number twos isn’t it?’ He caught me out properly,” says Habana as he reflects on the transition he has made from a career as one of the most decorated rugby players in history to what he terms as “life outside that bubble”.It’s a transition that hit home again as he this week packed a suitcase for the upcoming Vodacom Super Rugby final, where Habana will join a select group of Vodacom Red clients who have qualified for an exclusive trip with him and Jonathan from Radio Raps fame as they first travel to Dubai and then onwards to wherever the final will be played.
And packing a suitcase means, of course, you need clothes.
“You know, when you stop playing, you almost have to buy a new wardrobe because the sponsors have moved on to the next best players. But also, you can’t walk into a business meeting in a tracksuit and slops anymore,” says Habana.
“They say you need to prepare for life after rugby, but when you’re in that bubble it’s very difficult to know what’s outside of it and when that move is going to happen. But you certainly become aware of the life professional sport has given you. It’s a very unrealistic one in terms of how the real world works. All of a sudden you go from a life of receiving a very detailed daily programme which tells you what to wear every day and where to go, to having to do all of those things yourself.”
For Habana, this #RedFinalTour and the concept of an unknown destination resembles his own journey at present.
“The transition period for any professional athlete is never the easiest. It’s not always that easy to prepare for something that’s really unknown. Only once you step into it and you start finding out where you fit into the real world, you start finding your feet a bit more.
“I’m fortunate in that I studied while I was at Toulon and managed to get some form of business acumen behind me. I’ve always been interested in the digital space and am working in that area now. I’ve also worked with some big brands throughout my career, and was conscious of creating my own brand that corporates would want to continue working with after my rugby career was finished.
“So in this 18-month period that I’ve given myself to discover life after rugby, I’ve been fortunate to not have been too stressed about what’s next for me. I still don’t know what I’m going to be doing fulltime, but at the present time I’m really enjoying the opportunities, like being part of this Vodacom Red Final Tour experience.”
And he’s certainly embracing this next phase of his life, wherever it may lead.