Springboks

'Super-sub' tag for Francois Hougaard?

2017-06-05 14:20
Francois Hougaard (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - In Allister Coetzee's first year as Springbok coach, he was not afraid to move players around and play them out of their specialist positions. 

Most noticeable was his decision to field Francois Hougaard at wing for the home and away Rugby Championship matches against Australia and New Zealand. 

In those matches, Hougaard did not look out of his depth. He played with a lot of heart, made some brave tackles and ran with purpose, but it was clear throughout that he was not playing in his best position. 

While he is quick around the fringes of a ruck, Hougaard lacked the finishing pace and aerial dominance, or at least the experience in those areas, to be truly effective as a Test wing. 

Hougaard was then injured and did not appear on the end-of-year tour, meaning that all four of his Bok appearances under Coetzee have come on the wing. 

Now, in preparing for France over the next three weekends, Coetzee must find a way to get the most out of Hougaard. 

In the build-up to the series, Coetzee has spoken a lot about backing combinations. That is not something that he placed as much emphasis on last year, but he has been vocal right from the start of 2017 that he sees value in picking players who have excelled together at Super Rugby level.

With Elton Jantjies almost certain to wear the No 10 jersey at Loftus on Saturday, his Lions halfback partner Ross Cronje thus emerges as the favourite to start at scrumhalf. 

Cronje has been in superb Super Rugby form for the Lions, outshining last year's first-choice Springbok scrumhalf, Faf de Klerk. 

Rudy Paige is the other scrumhalf in the squad, but he has found himself behind Piet van Zyl in the Bulls' pecking order in what has been a disastrous season for them. 

So, Hougaard as back-up to Cronje is probably the likeliest option when talking scrumhalves. 

But it is on the wing where Hougaard's potential involvement gets interesting. 

Coetzee has chosen three specialists out wide - Courtnall Skosan, Raymond Rhule and Dillyn Leyds. And while they have all excelled to an extent in Super Rugby this year, they are all uncapped at Test level. 

On form this season, it is hard to see Coetzee not picking Skosan. The 25-year-old has scored eight tries in 13 matches and has looked lethal whenever presented with attacking opportunities. 

If Skosan is picked in the No 11 jersey, as expected, then Coetzee must choose between Leyds and Rhule - or maybe Hougaard - as his No 14. 

Leyds has played on the left wing for the Stormers this season, while he has also had a dip at fullback and flyhalf, but he must surely emerge as a better bet than Rhule based purely on defence. 

Rhule has missed a whopping 37 tackles in Super Rugby this season at a success percentage rate of just 54.9% - certainly not good enough for Test level, especially against a French side that will look to target the Springbok outside backs. 

And while Jesse Kriel is also an option at right wing, Coetzee may have to employ him in what is looking a rather thin midfield at present. 

The likeliest option is that the Boks will have Hougaard on their bench, because if they go that route, then they have a 'two for the price of one' player to call on.

It means that Coetzee could potentially have a 6-2 split on his bench, sacrificing a backline player for extra muscle in the pack.

That might not be the worst thinking in the world, because if the Boks are to be successful against anyone this year they need to go back to their strengths - set piece, defence and physical dominance up front. 

And if having the flexibility of Hougaard gives them the platform to do that, then the role of 'super-sub' might become his role over the next month. 

Read more on:    springboks  |  francois hougaard  |  rugby
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