Hougaard set to specialise in 2013
If Francois Hougaard gets his way, Saturday’s final test of the year against England will also be the last time he wears the Springbok No 11 on his back.
After being switched between wing and scrumhalf for much of the five years he has been playing senior professional rugby, the 23-year-old Bulls star says he has had enough -- he wants to be used exclusively as a No 9 from now on.
Hougaard, speaking after the Bok team announcement on Wednesday, is a product of the Western Province Rugby Institute in Stellenbosch, and he appears to have a view that coincides with that of the two top men at the Institute, Stef Nel and Jacques Hanekom.
The pair said in an interview during 2010 that they felt Hougaard’s move to the Bulls to play behind Fourie du Preez, and subsequent selections on the wing, would hurt Hougaard’s development as a scrumhalf. They both
believed their star pupil of an earlier intake had what it took to become the best No 9 in the world if he played there more regularly.
“My preferred position is definitely scrumhalf and I do think that playing wing as much as I have been has hurt my play as a scrumhalf,” said Hougaard.
“I have made it known to the coaches at the Bulls that scrumhalf is where I want to specialise from now on. I will only develop as a scrumhalf if I play there regularly. What I need is a full pre-season where I work only as a scrumhalf, and then to play only as a scrumhalf when the season starts. That will get me thinking like a scrumhalf.
“There are a lot of technical aspects of scrumhalf that require a heck of a lot of hard work and preparation, and I just haven’t been able to put in the time that is needed as I have been playing so much on the wing. Playing 10 minutes or so as a scrumhalf later in the game after playing the first part as a wing is not going to help me develop into the player I want to be.”
There was a perception among Bok management members at the last World Cup that Hougaard may now have become more of a wing than a scrumhalf, and that when it comes to wanting to specialise in the position, the No 9 bus has already left the station. But Hougaard disagrees.
“I think I can catch up what I have missed, I don’t think that is a problem. It’s just about me getting maximum time to work on my craft as a scrumhalf. I am confident that once I do that, it will start coming together for me,” said Hougaard.
Of course, both at Springbok and at Bulls level there are other talented scrumhalves about. Hougaard though is prepared to challenge from the bench if that is what he is required to do.
“I am not afraid of competition, I realise that someone like Jano Vermaak is a really good player at the Bulls and he may keep me out of the team. But I am prepared for that. I would rather be on the bench as a scrumhalf and working on my scrumhalf game than playing on the wing, where I won’t have the opportunity to hone my skills as a No 9.”
There was a perception that it was Hougaard’s kicking game that let him down in the tests earlier this year and saw him end up being displaced by Ruan Pienaar, but Hougaard says there is nothing specific about being a scrumhalf that he intends working on.
“I just want to work on all aspects, particularly the decision making. I just want to get used to thinking as a scrumhalf again,” he said.
“I must say I have felt bad being on this tour and seeing Lwazi Mvovo on the bench because I am playing wing. He has had an excellent year and maybe it’s time for him to be given an opportunity.”
One thing that is clear is that regardless of where he plays him, coach Meyer has a high regard for Hougaard the rugby player. He is one of the few players who has played every test during the Meyer tenure so far.