The former World Player of the Year joined up with the Springbok Sevens side on Tuesday in Stellenbosch, and had his first day of training on Wednesday.
Now playing for French club Toulon, Habana was included in the 12-man group on Thursday for the World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments in Las Vegas next weekend (March 4-6) and in Vancouver a week later (March 12-13).
But despite winning 117 Springbok Test caps, the former Stormers flyer knows he won’t just be able to walk into the Blitzbok squad for the Olympics, as he has to get up to speed with the training regime required to have the unique level of fitness for top-flight sevens rugby.
Other 15s stars such as Sonny Bill Williams, Juan de Jongh and Francois Hougaard also took some time to get used to the intensity of the shorter format.
“To make the full adjustment into the game of sevens is going to be pretty tough. I’ve had eight weeks straight of competition in the New Year for Toulon, and I am grateful that they have released me,” Habana said on Thursday.
“But sevens is a totally different ball-game. Having watched it over the last couple of years, I have a massive amount of respect for the work these guys do, the fitness levels, the skill levels…
“The physicality of the game has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. A lot of respect for the work ethic out there today, and hopefully I can make the adjustment sooner rather than later.
“It’s going to be pretty tough out there, if I do get an opportunity and I don’t want to let myself or this team down. I will put in a lot of hard work over the next couple of weeks.”
But the ultimate goal is the Olympics, and Habana wants to earn his place for Rio in August. “Forty-eight hours ago, I was about to board a plane to come to South Africa. Very nerve-wracking, pretty tired after what was a very full morning,” Habana said.
“But I’m unbelievably excited. The work ethic in this group is absolutely fantastic, and the way I have been accepted and welcomed today has been really amazing. Hopefully with my time around here, I will be able to contribute to the success of this team.
“But really excited about what the future could hold, not for myself, but more so for this team.”
Another former 15s Bok in loose forward Ryan Kankowski makes his return to the sevens scene for the first time since 2006 following a stint in Japan.
The ex-Sharks No 8 won’t be playing out of Durban this year as he is contracted to the Blitzbokke on a fulltime basis, with the view to making the Olympic squad as well. Kankowski won’t feature in Las Vegas, though, due to a slight niggle, but will be ready for the Vancouver leg.
Other notable returnees from injury are captain Kyle Brown and playmakers Cecil Afrika, Justin Geduld and Branco du Preez.
“Bryan and Ryan bring an extra dimension to the squad. Both are experienced Springboks and they add a lot of other rugby intelligence to our system. Both are eager to learn and I am looking forward to see how they perform in the World Series,” Blitzbok coach Neil Powell said.
“Kyle, Cecil and Branco have each played in more than 35 tournaments, while Justin has played in over 20 events. They add a lot of experience and we are extremely happy to have them back in the squad.”
The Blitzbokke are joint top on the Sevens Series standings on 69 points with New Zealand and Fiji after four rounds.
SPRINGBOK SEVENS SQUAD
Chris Dry, Dylan Sage, Tim Agaba, Kwagga Smith, Bryan Habana, Kyle Brown (captain), Branco du Preez, Rosko Specman, Justin Geduld, Cecil Afrika, Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel, Ryan Kankowski.
Original source: Habana puts in the hard yards