RYAN VREDE reports that Francois Hougaard will be the Bulls’ first-choice scrumhalf and he is acutely aware of the massive expectation on him to succeed Fourie du Preez.
Hougaard was recruited from Western Province in late 2007 with the intention of grooming him to replace Du Preez. However, such was his talent that the Bulls’ senior players urged the coaching staff to accommodate him at wing, where he made telling contributions.
However, with Du Preez having ended a career in Pretoria – one in which he became the fulcrum around which the Bulls revolved – for a stint with Japanese side Suntory Goliath, Hougaard will get the extended run in the position he considers his best.
‘Coach Frans [Ludeke] has told me I’m the number one scrumhalf for the season,’ Hougaard told keo.co.za. ‘It is the chance I’ve been waiting for for some time and I know Fourie’s shadow will loom until I establish myself as a worthy successor.
‘That said, I’m a different player to him, more combative and robust than tactical and technical. He worked hard with me on the tactical side of things when he was still here but he always encouraged me to be my own man. That’s what I intend to do.’
The Bulls are well stocked in the scrumhalf department with the highly competent Jano Vermaak having signed in late 2011. Vermaak is set to be given a run against lesser opponents, at which time Hougaard may revert to the wing.
‘I enjoyed my time out wide. I understood the planning around me being played there and was prepared to bide my time,’ Hougaard explained. ‘Now I’m set on playing in my preferred position and showing why I think I’m a better scrumhalf than a winger. I’m open to being used on the wing from time to time, but I see myself as a No 9 and the coaches have backed me in that position.’
Hougaard appealed for patience before making absolute judgements on his suitability for the role. ‘To expect immediate success is unrealistic,’ Hougaard offered. ‘I haven’t played regularly at scrumhalf for some time. It will take some getting used to. That said I have high expectations of myself and understand my importance in the context of the team’s success. I can’t take forever to settle. There is no room for that in Super Rugby. You’ll be exposed and the pressure will snowball. But I love the challenge. I feel alive.’
He added that his ultimate goal was to surpass Du Preez’s feats at Test level. ‘I want to be the best scrumhalf in world rugby. To get there I will have to at the very least meet the standard Fourie set,’ Hougaard said. ‘But the game will evolve to a level that will probably require me to go past that standard. It’s a big challenge but I wouldn’t be able to settle for a mediocre goal.’
Read the in-depth feature with Hougaard in the current edition of SA Rugby magazine.