'Yard quicker up top': Wasps' verdict on Hougaard position switch
Wasps have been singing the praises of ex-Springboks international Francois Hougaard, their scrum-half signing last summer from Worcester who chipped in with two tries from the wing when making his first Gallagher Premiership appearance in 16 weeks last Sunday at London Irish. Hougaard arrived at the Coventry Building Society Arena ahead of the 2021/22 season as a scrum-half specialist after making 78 Premiership starts as the Worcester No9 during his six seasons at Sixways.
However, frustrated by the lack of opportunity at half-back at Wasps, the 34-year-old Hougaard convinced the director of rugby Lee Blackett that he was worth a shot at playing on the wing. South Africa had primarily seen Hougaard as a scrum-half during his 46-cap Test career which spanned from 2009 to 2017, but he reminded Blackett that he had started eleven Test matches on the wing for the Springboks and that he could do a job there for Wasps if given a chance.
Having made just a single start in the Premiership as the Wasps No9, Blackett eventually selected Hougaard as a winger for the late November game against Gloucester and while the veteran has had his issues since then with injury, he mostly only now trains as a winger at the club and his start last Sunday in London was his fifth on the wing in the Premiership.
Having scored twice against the Irish, Blackett was asked by RugbyPass why Hougaard was able to excel in that position on the wing despite not having played there for years until his repositioning by Wasps. “I’d say it’s instinctive. Franny is just a ball player, knows the game and is so instinctive.
“That is why defensively he comes up with big moments and he gets on the end of tries. It’s just experience. Even if they do lose a yard of pace, they are a yard quicker up top so they get themselves in exactly the same spot and maybe even a yard or two ahead of that.”
Blackett went on to explain how the positional switch came about. “Before Christmas, he started speaking to me about wanting to play on the wing, that that was his preferred position. It’s very rare that you get that. You generally get people frustrated if you are playing them slightly out of position but he was telling me how many times he had played for South Africa on the wing and he was trying to convince me, so we gave him an opportunity and I thought he was brilliant immediately, had a lot of attributes that are really good for our wingers.
“Just his defence, he is a rock in there, he wins jackals, wins turnovers, the way he reads the game, the way he gets on the end of breaks, his work rate is infectious, he is tough and so we gave him that opportunity and since then he has only really trained there. He is probably currently our fourth choice nine just because he doesn’t train there much.
“We have got that ability for him to play at nine if needed but he actually does the majority of his training now really on the wing and he loves it there. If you just asked him he has loved the game even more. He enjoys the freedom of playing there, that is the big thing.”
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