Francois Hougaard says he is better suited to scrumhalf than wing and admits to feeling like he is stalling Lwazi Mvovo’s Test career.
In a refreshingly candid interview, Hougaard, who started the Test season as Heyneke Meyer’s first-choice scrumhalf but was later shifted to wing, spoke about his positional preference, his form and his feelings on Mvovo’s plight.
Hougaard shone for the Bulls in 2009 and 2010 on the wing, but struggled to make the transition back to scrumhalf (where he’d played most of his career) when Fourie du Preez moved on. This season was one of adjustment, painful at times, as Hougaard battled to come to terms with the tactical demands of the Bulls’ game plan, particularly the kicking disciplines.
Those struggles carried over into the Test arena, before he was finally replaced by Ruan Pienaar for the Rugby Championship. Yet Heyneke Meyer still placed high value on his game-breaking ability and accommodated him on the wing.
Asked to assess his season, Hougaard said: ‘I haven’t been happy with my form. I’m still learning a lot at scrumhalf, but I haven’t played much there. I still train there everyday, but you only get better if you play. I still think that’s my best position.
‘In the long run I’m a scrumhalf. I want to settle in one position or I run the risk of being an average wing and an average scrumhalf. I don’t want that to happen. I know I have so much to work on at scrumhalf, but I’d prefer to cover scrumhalf from the bench for the Springboks [in 2013] if it means I’m not thrown around positionally [scrumhalf at the Bulls and wing with the Springboks].’
With the reduced time and space on offer in Test rugby [compared to Super Rugby] and greater analysis available on him after his impressive cameos off the wood as a wing in 2011, Hougaard has yet to entrench himself in the position. There are mitigating factors, among them the Springboks’ inability to engineer opportunities for him. Hougaard, however, refused to look beyond himself for blame, and continued with a startling admission.
‘The coach plays me ahead of Lwazi on wing, but I feel for him. I would understand and support the decision to play him ahead of me,’ he said. ‘It feels unfair to me because I’m playing in his position and not doing that well. Its easy to tell the guys to keep themselves up on a three-week tour, where they sit on the bench or never play. It’s not nice and not easy, I’ve been there. But I’m here now and I have to take the chance. I’m working hard every day to improve.’