OLYMPIC STADIUM, London -- On the night Bryan Habana drew level with Jonah Lomu as the Rugby World Cup's all-time top try scorer, he was humble to the last, refusing to put himself on the same level as the All Blacks great.
Habana's 3 tries against the USA took him to 15 in World Cups -- a tally built from his 8 in 2007, 2 in 2011 and 5 in the current tournament, its eighth incarnation. He could have had one more -- a score that would have put him out on his own on 16 -- but he failed to gather the ball with the try line gaping.
His hat-trick also draws him joint second place with David Campese on 64 tries in the all-time Test try-scoring record stakes -- they are both five short of the leader Daisuke Ohata on 69.
It has been a frustrating World Cup for the Springboks but they will hope their opener against Japan will be their nadir as with three wins on the bounce -- their last a 10-try thrashing of the USA Eagles -- they have topped the pool.
Habana's feat will take much of the post-match coverage but the Springboks have preached a message of unity and the general philosophy is one that they will not dwell on Habana's feat, with the man himself reluctant to take any praise.
"It's unbelievably humbling." Habana said post-match. "I said in 2007, I don't think I can ever be compared to Jonah. The way he changed the game, you know he was a class act. He did it in two tournaments; it's taken me three. He became the first global superstar the game ever produced and I have an unbelievable amount of respect for him.
"For me records are always nice to achieve but the most important thing for me, throughout my career, has been making a contribution to my side. And I've been privileged and fortunate to wear the Springboks jersey 114 times. To be able to make that contribution has been worthwhile. Jonah's been a fantastic player, a true legend of the game and just an incredible talent.
"It's so humbling I've been able to do something with my God-given talent, to do something I love and to do it with teammates you have formed a special bond with and to do it for a country where rugby gives us so much back, it is a massive privilege."
Habana's first encounter with Lomu was back at the 1995 World Cup where the future Springboks legend was just a supporter in the crowd. He was at the semifinal where Lomu almost single-handedly demolished England and Habana's focus was on getting the great man's autograph.
"Bryan's a wonderful human being ... he's a great ambassador for South Africa. We're so happy for him. It's a great thing for our country." Heyneke Meyer
"For me he is an inspiration. In 1995 for me in that World Cup to see a guy like Jonah Lomu demolish England, he went on to become a global superstar. I will never forget. I was there targeting signatures."
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer knows Habana well having coached him at the Bulls earlier in the winger's career.
"Bryan is always someone that produces it at the big games and has played well for me," Meyer said. "Bryan has really looked like he's back to his best and it's great that he's in wonderful form. He's a wonderful human being as well. He's a great ambassador for South Africa, he's peaked at the right time and he's done well for us. We're so happy for him, Bryan will know it's about the team but it's a great thing for our country."
And Meyer, who poked fun at his age, also said despite Habana getting a hat-trick, he will feel aggrieved at the try opportunity he spurned.
"I know Bryan and he will more disappointed that he didn't finish when he had the chance to score rather than break a record. It is great that South Africa can hopefully get that record," Meyer said. "He probably doesn't have the speed he once did, he will excuse me if I say that, but he's got great attributes."
Captain on the day Fourie du Preez also paid tribute to Habana, saying: "Since Bryan's first appearance he has been an unbelievable finisher. He is always in the right place at the right time."