Ashton's England inclusion backed by Habana

Bryan Habana backs Chris Ashton's ambitions to play for England again
Bryan Habana backs Chris Ashton's ambitions to play for England again

In Part One of Talking Rugby Union’s interview, the Springbok legend talks Chris Ashton, Toulon and retirement.

Bryan Habana says he understands why Chris Ashton decided to move back to the Premiership after a successful stint with Toulon.

Ashton had two years remaining on his contract at Stade Mayol but left the French club early because of “important family problems” and it was announced last month that he would join Sale Sharks.

The winger scored 24 tries in 23 games for Toulon and his return to the Premiership means he has the opportunity to resurrect his England career as he bids to be part of Eddie Jones’ plans for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Ashton has recently been named in England's pre-season training squad and will be hoping to impress ahead of the Autumn Internationals.

“I think Chris made an immense impact at Toulon when he came over,” said Habana who worked alongside Ashton last term.

“He was phenomenal in his professionalism and his work ethic on and off the field was great. Becoming the Top 14’s record highest try scorer for a singular season was absolutely incredible.

“From a Toulon perspective, it was disappointing to see him leave but Chris has aspirations of getting back into that England squad to play his part in the World Cup.

“It is something from a professional rugby point of view I understand and it would have been a decision he would have thought about really hard before making it.

“I really hope he can continue with the form he has been on for Toulon and he can push for a place in the England set-up.”

Like Ashton, Habana enjoyed success in Toulon after joining the club in 2013. He won back to back European Cups in 2014 and 2015 as well as the domestic title.

However, last year was arguably Habana’s toughest season in his career as a long-term knee injury kept him out of action and in April, he announced his retirement from the game.

The South Africa legend was clearly frustrated by the way things ended in France in terms of his injury and his relationship with head coach Fabien Galthie, but Habana has no regrets following his time with Toulon.

“I think for me when I went from the Super Ruby set-up to make the decision to move up north, it was to test myself in a totally different environment,” Habana added.

“Being able to develop my game in a different way at a point in my career where I wanted to experience something that I wasn’t used to was really important for me.

“The first two or so years achieving success with Toulon and playing with some of the legends of the game like Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Ali Williams and Carl Hayman, being reunited with Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw as well as playing with players such as Mathieu Bastareaud, was truly enjoyable for me.

“I think being able to embrace that and also achieve that success was important for me on my way to playing my part for South Africa in the World Cup in 2015.

“I guess being put out of your comfort zone and experiencing a different culture has been incredibly important. It was a fantastic experience. My little four-year-old probably speaks better French than me to be honest!

“The Toulon fans were great. When it was going well at Stade Mayol, it was one of the most amazing places to play rugby. It was very unique and incredibly special.”

After a glittering 16-year career, Habana is now having time away from the game. He recently did some television work during South Africa’s Test series against England, but he is keen to reflect on his playing days and spend time with his family before making his next career move.

He added: “I am not sure if me being a supporter on a couch watching rugby is actually staying in rugby!

“I don’t think I will be doing too much coaching.  For now, I am just going to take some time out and reflect on what has been but also spend some time with my family and friends and enjoy time off before delving into what is next.”

Habana is currently ambassador for a new drink Cuco Fuzion: “It is beneficial for the brand to promote healthy living.

“It is a product that tastes really great and goes down well in the winter and the summer. I am grateful that they have chosen me as an ambassador and hopefully I can play my part in creating and helping healthy living without anything that involves any extra sugars.”