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Why No9 Francois Hougaard is getting picked as a winger at Wasps

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Getty Images)

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Wasps boss Lee Blackett has been enthused by the re-emergence of ex-Springboks player Francois Hougaard as a winger following his arrival at the club as a seasoned scrum-half who had made 78 Gallagher Premiership starts in his six seasons as the starting No9 at league rivals Worcester.

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The South African had checked in at Wasps as a half-back signing last July but his only league start so far at scrum-half came in October versus Saracens. Rather than grow frustrated at this lack of action as a No9, though,  Hougaard sought out Blackett to remind him of his past fortunes in the southern hemisphere as a winger. 

At one stage Hougaard, the 33-year-old who won the last of his 46 Springboks caps in 2017, made seven successive Test level starts on the wing for his country in 2012, the same calendar year he made 16 Super Rugby starts as a scrum-half for the Bulls.  

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It was rumoured at the start of 2021 that Hougaard would return to the Bulls from Worcester but he instead signed for Wasps and ever since reminding Blackett of his historical positional flexibility, Hougaard has gone on to start three Premiership matches on the right and left wings for Wasps and he is poised for a fourth outing in that sector when his club hosts leaders Leicester on Sunday in Coventry. 

Blackett has explained that Hougaard has deserved his selection on merit despite their current catalogue of injury, the coach outlining that the South African’s form is currently better than some of the specialist wingers at the club. 

“We have got a few injuries but he has been chosen there ahead of other wingers because we feel he has been adding a lot to us,” explained Blackett about the sudden redeployment of scrum-half Hougaard as a winger. “He came to me and it was almost one of those conversions where he made it clear he was really happy to play winger, he loved playing wing – ‘If you ever need me there please select me there’. From what I see and what I know from conversations with him he probably prefers to play out there than as a nine. He is a competitor, he fights for everything. He wants to be out there with the boys and wants to be playing.

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“If you ask him himself he loves playing on the wing. He loves playing to start with but he just loves that ability to roam. When you think about Francois Hougaard very few people think about him jumping out with the ball fast. 

“Very few people talk about his defence in terms of his physicality and for me, at the moment he is like a rock for us on the wing. Physically, how many nines want to go around jackaling (for the ball)? He is at every ruck he can possibly be to get his hands in to try and get the ball.”

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