Hougaard claims difficult to ignore
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers's loyalty to veteran winger Bryan Habana may continue, but it is increasingly difficult to miss the pressing claims of utility back Francois Hougaard for a starting place at this year’s Rugby World Cup.
While De Villiers may have retained Habana after he finally scored the one try he needed to break the Bok try record of Joost van der Westhuizen when he dotted down against Namibia, statistics of the first three rounds of the competition paint a harrowing picture of the impact that Hougaard could have made.
The utility, who will come off the bench against Samoa on Friday, has started just one game – against Namibia – but played vital roles in the matches against Wales and Fiji.
With much less game-time than his teammates and worldwide competitors, he manages to lead the ranking points for the most linebreaks at this year’s World Cup.
According to leading New Zealand site Verusco, Hougaard is the leading player for linebreaks in the competition, contributing nine linebreaks in his 120 minutes of rugby so far.
Hougaard is joined by Australian Adam Ashley-Cooper with nine, while All Blacks Ma’a Nonu, Richard Kahui and Australian Quade Cooper follow with seven.
Hougaard is also the South African with the most metres gained on the field – 362 – placing him ninth in the competition standings, led by Quade Cooper with 587 metres.
And still he can’t get into the side.
There was an expectation that Habana may have passed his sell-by date when the record was broken, but this week De Villiers continued with his loyalty to the out-of-form winger by keeping him in the starting line-up.
However, even assistant coach Dick Muir has admitted that Hougaard cannot be ignored for much longer.
“He is a special individual. He certainly has x-factor and comes off and makes an impact off the bench,” Muir said about the utility back.
“At this stage this is the role he performs, but he certainly is knocking on the door for a starting line-up. We will just wait and see when he gets his opportunity, he needs to be ready for it.”
There are few however outside this Bok management group who will argue that Hougaard isn’t ready quite yet, and given his ability to sway a game, it may well be a move they need to make for the play-off rounds, where form is likely to trump loyalty when the chips are down.