Hougie needs forwards to fire
13 Jun 2012
The Springbok coaches and players are adamant that with the right platform Francois Hougaard can play a Fourie du Preez-type role at No 9.
Heyneke Meyer was always going to favour a territory-based game plan for this England series, although it was initially thought that Du Preez would start at No 9 and continue to make game-shaping contributions in the tactical kicking department.
However, when Du Preez made himself unavailable Meyer still pushed through with his plans. Meyer asked Hougaard, a different sort of talent, to play Du Preez’s role.
At Kings Park, Hougaard produced some robust runs from the base of the ruck, his abrasiveness and acceleration serving to ignite what was predominantly a static Bok attack. Where he appeared to fail, however, was in his primary role as a distributor. He was slow to clear the ball from the ruck, and when it came to his tactical kicking, his accuracy was a problem.
Some may feel that this performance served to show why Hougaard may be better deployed elsewhere in the backline. He has enjoyed success for the Bulls at wing, and made an impact in this position for the Boks at the 2011 World Cup.
Meyer and his coaching staff, however, feel that Hougaard has all the skills to be a world-class scrumhalf and can play conservatively if the situation demands it.
On Tuesday, assistant coach Johan van Graan said that the Boks’ first-half failures were rooted in a flawed breakdown approach. It was asked whether Hougaard’s sluggishness at the ruck had exacerbated the problem, and if perhaps Ruan Pienaar wasn’t a better option in that No 9 position if the Boks were going to persist with a territory-based playing pattern.
Van Graan said the coaches believe Hougaard is up to the task. The same question was put to Morné Steyn, Hougaard’s halfback partner at the Boks and Bulls. Again, Steyn said that Hougaard is capable, and called for a team improvement at the breakdown to ensure Hougaard enjoys more time and space to execute efficiently.
‘Hougie struggled a bit with the pressure, and a few of his box kicks weren’t great,’ said Steyn. ‘We need to make sure we have some better cleans at the breakdown, we weren’t getting enough clean ball [in the first half] last Saturday.
‘Then in the second half we were getting clean ball and Ruan came on and suddenly things seemed better. I don’t think Hougie needs to change anything. He just needs to play the same way he plays for the Bulls.’
Another inconsistent showing at the breakdown will not only affect Hougaard, but Steyn himself. The halfback pair needs the necessary time and space to implement the Bok game plan. If the Bok pack manages to provide that platform, the onus is then on Hougaard and Steyn to be more accurate.
‘Our tactical game was at 60 or 70% last week, and obviously that’s not where we want to be,’ said Steyn. ‘The stats showed that not all of our kicks found the target, for example there were some aerial kicks that we didn’t manage to get back or get the right outcome from.
‘This week, we will be playing at altitude where the ball travels a bit further. I know I’m more comfortable when I’m playing closer to Loftus,’ Steyn joked before making a more serious statement. ‘We will stick to the game plan, but we have to be more accurate.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg