Solving the Hougaard hoodoo

Heyneke Meyer has told keo.co.za that Derick Hougaard has emerged from two years of trials as a more complete player, and more consistent match-winner.

Hougaard, who delivered a composed and commanding 80 minutes against the Cheetahs on Friday in the Bulls’ Super 14 opener, will wear 10 again against the Brumbies.

Meyer’s selection of Hougaard was highlighted as a masterstroke – by this site before kick-off and by others subsequent to his performance – and the irony is not lost on the Bulls’ mastermind.

“Last year when I picked Morne Steyn everyone was happy, now it’s the other way round,” Meyer laughs. “I just felt Derick had a brilliant off-season, he trained harder than ever and gained confidence as a result. I’m a big believer in playing the right player in the right game, and that was the case on Friday night.”

Meyer confirmed that Hougaard will start the next two fixtures before Steyn is given an opportunity.

“Derick will play against the Brumbies, I told him I would stick with him for three games. He’s had a bit of a dip over the past two years, and I don’t think working with seven different coaches helped him at all. There’s been a lot of pressure on him, but I think now he’s able to deal with that.”

When the observation is made that the Hougaard of Friday night was able to maintain his composure despite misfiring when kicking for poles, whereas the Hougaard of 2004 or 2005 would have let the rest of his game slip similarly, Meyer is delighted by the comparison.

“I’m very happy you said that, because that’s a point I’ve been making to him over the past few months time and time again. He needs to keep cool and keep focused after mistakes, and on Friday he did that. He is a much more mature player now, and if he manages to keep his feet on the ground, he will emerge every game as a stronger player because of his experiences.”

A noticable aspect of Hougaard’s performance on Friday in Bloem was his willingness to attack the gain line, and Meyer admits it has taken conscious effort to remould Hougaard’s tendancy to stand too deep.

“I’ve worked very hard with him at attacking the gain line, and I think that was evident on Friday. He is now a far more complete player, where in the past you could say he was an exceptional kicker only, now to say that would be completely false. It’s now a matter of him getting his confidence back, and if he continues to play like he did against the Cheetahs, that will come flowing back every game.”