Bulls to shift Hougaard to wing?
Pretoria - The Bulls may well be forced to shuffle their backline, and could see their Springbok scrumhalf Francois Hougaard head to the wing for Saturday’s Super Rugby opener against the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld.
The supersport.com website reports that an injury to both Akona Ndungane and Travis Ismael has left the Bulls short on the wing stock they normally have, with the only fit winger in the squad other than Bjorn Basson being former Bok Sevens specialist Jamba Ulengo.
With the Stormers known for their prowess out wide, and the Bulls desperate to kick off the season with a home victory, Hougaard may be moved back to the position he played when the Bulls won Super Rugby in 2010 and where he has played some of his most dangerous rugby to date.
There is a solid debate since the halfback was selected for the Springboks whether his nippy play was more suited to the outside backs or scrumhalf, especially because at times his basic skills at halfback have sometimes let him down.
Hougaard is most dangerous with ball in hand and in space, as many an opponent has found and the Bulls may well decide to try him out to counter the Stormers threat out wide.
Coach Frans Ludeke wouldn’t confirm a possible switch, but did say it was one of the factors they would keep in mind in selection meetings.
“It’s important to keep both positions open for him. It’s important as well for his game as it brings out the aspects of his game that make him dangerous,” Ludeke said.
“We’ve also got a couple of injuries to take into account this week that will influence selection and that will come into play when we choose the team.”
With so many young stars knocking on the door, Ludeke has a few tough choices to make this week – for instance whether he chooses veteran Jurgen Visser over the SA under-20 star Jesse Kriel, or JJ Engelbrecht over William Small-Smith, both will be tricky decisions.
In the end the coach believes he will back the performance, and has promised that the form players will be selected, no matter what.
“At the end of the day its vitally important for us to make sure we are in the running for the entire length of the competition. So you can only be loyal to a player’s performance,” Ludeke said.
“The players know well how important it is for us to do well this year and to win. It is what is driving this whole team at the moment.
“If everyone gives their all then we will be fine and then it will be a case of guys completing each other and competing in positions. You want that competition as it is a good thing, and it brings the best out in players. So we embrace it, and the players embrace it as well.”
With the Stormers wins over the Bulls of late coming through soft moments out wide, the Bulls are more than happy with their defence going into this game.
“We were happy with our defence in the pre-season games. We have one or two adjustments we want to make but we know where we are is what you will need this weekend. Usually with derbies like this it is who gets the momentum that wins the game, and who makes the least mistakes.”
The Bulls will choose their side Wednesday with Pierre Spies set to captain them again after almost 18 months on the sidelines.