Francois Hougaard failed to impress in the No 9 jersey as South Africa powered to a 41-23 win against Argentina in Salta last week. Tank Lanning and Zelím Nel debate whether he would be of more value to the Boks on the wing.
Tank says – not a chance
I first came across Francois Hougaard while coaching an Ikey U20 side in a pre-season game against a WP Institute team made up of the youngsters deemed set for greatness by the union.
And my oath did he get under my skin! Brash, arrogant, chirpy and physical to the point of being dirty. I wanted to get out there and flatten him myself! But, boy could this kid play! Impeccably conditioned, skills aplenty, he made merry that day.
And I have been a protagonist ever since. He is a fantastic player.
Like most players who get stuffed around positionally, though, I believe his time as time as a Bok “utility” player did him no favours. Anxious to play, and with the coaches keen to utilise his obvious skills, instead of offering his talent off the bench behind the legend that was Fourie du Preez, he fell into a trap that saw him turning out on the wing.
Please let’s not make the same mistake again.
Yes, he has been iffy for the Boks in his last two starts, struggling to get his backline away. He is a playmaker at heart, and because of that, I think he is struggling to make decisive decisions at the base.
Wanting to make things happen, he is prone to taking a step or two, and then passing after seeing that nothing is on. It’s messy. His kicking game is also not up to scratch.
Gary Gold, director of rugby at Worcester, where Hougaard currently plays his rugby, also rates him extremely highly – as a scrumhalf.
Wings, we have in spades, even if not currently in the selection frame. Get a specialist in to help Hougaard hone his game and we will see him back to his classy best. He deserves the investment.
Zelím says – Can we do it, like, right now, please?
Francois Hougaard is one heck of a rugby player. I think his prodigious athletic ability, good instincts and the complete absence of the latter in his fight-or-flight response could have seen him succeed in a number of professional sports.
But he’s not an international scrumhalf.
Often overlooked, one of the core responsibilities of the scrumhalf job-spec is tactical kicking. Isolation kicks are safer and more effective when launched from No 9 than flyhalf, and a scrumhalf that offers a veritable tactical threat relieves pressure on his halfback partner and forward pack, and sets a stress test for the defence.
During Super Rugby, no scrumhalf kicked more than All Blacks dynamo Aaron Smith.
Hougaard is a liability in this facet of play because he cannot consistently find the mark with his tactical kicks. When this point was raised five years ago, the general consensus was that Hougaard, 24 at the time, had time to refine that aspect of his game.
Five Tests into Heyneke Meyer’s first season at the helm, the Bok coach realised that Hougaard wasn’t going to cut it and he handed the No 9 jersey to Ruan Pienaar for the Rugby Championship showdown with Australia in Perth. The corresponding fixture of this season will see Hougaard again surrender the jersey to Ross Cronje.
The Lions scrumfeeder may be the best, locally-based all-rounder available to the Boks, but he’s far from being an elite player.
Hougaard should take his cue from losing a position battle against a player of Cronje’s middling grade as a sign that it’s time to employ his physicality closer to the touchline, where he starred for the 2010 Super Rugby champions, the Bulls.
You’ve read what they think, now let us know where you stand in The Big Debate!