Duane Heath

Hougaard's pole position

2004-04-30 07:59

Cape Town - Shortly before last year's Rugby World Cup, I visited renowned schoolboy coach Basil Bey and we chatted about the state of Springbok rugby, as well as which players he'd pick to play in Australia.

To say that the former Griffons trainer wasn't exactly a fan of Rudolf Straeuli and his gameplans would be understating matters a bit.

"If they dished up that sort of rugby at Bishops, I'd sack the bloody coaches; that's what I'd do! I always say to the schoolboys that if I went up the mountain and brought down 15 apes and put them on the field it'd be so easy to teach them to go to ground," were his exact words.

Bey, a regional talent scout for Jake White when the Bok coach was still in charge of the Under-21s last year, was adamant about one thing: the way forward for South African rugby was to pick "free thinkers" who could play an attacking game.

The forward-based drivel Straeuli's class of 2003 was dishing up wasn't the answer, and the manner in which the Stormers blew away the Blues a few weeks ago supported Bey's view that the Boks have the players to beat the New Zealanders at their own game.

In picking his ideal Bok XV, Bey gave his former protégé Neil de Kock, whom he lured to Welkom a few seasons back, the nod at scrumhalf. At centre it was Jean de Villiers if fit - and Robbie Fleck, one of his former schoolboy stars at Bishops. On the wing, Bey said he'd go for Ashwin Willemse and Breyton Paulse.

Hougaard at fullback?

So, what's changed? I've read enough "Bok barometers" over the past couple of weeks to know that the same players, with the exception of Fleck, should be in contention for the Springbok team sometime during the course of the 2004 season.

But it was at flyhalf and fullback that Bey pulled a few rabbits out of the hat.

"Everyone will be horrified," said Bey, "but I'd play Brent Russell at flyhalf and take somebody like Derick Hougaard and turn him into a number 15. We need a place-kicker. I watched Derick play for many years at Boland Landbou and I think he could do it."

Russell, despite his watch-winning performance at flyhalf against Australia in 2002, has never seriously been mentioned again as a possible pivot contender, despite his ongoing preference for the number 10 jersey.

And poor Hougaard, the incumbent Bok general and still only 20, has been given the boot by Rudy Joubert because of a "lack of confidence".

Hougaard has been accused of many things, including operating too far behind the advantage line, not being fast enough, and lacking running skills with ball in hand. As far as I can recall, being too small for top-flight rugby has never really been seen as a real problem.

'Bulk up'

Yet if my memory serves me correctly it was the same Joubert who insisted that Hougaard, at the end of last year, "bulk up" in the gym during the off-season instead of get some valuable game-time with the Springbok Sevens team, as had been suggested in some corners. And now the same coach says he lacks confidence?

Flyhalves aren't exactly falling out of trees in this country, yet we've managed to take two of the most exciting young talents around and tell them they don't fit the role of what the ideal general should look or play like.

The smart money is on White going for either Butch James or Jaco van der Westhuyzen against Ireland, with Werner Greeff and Percy Montgomery in the mix for the fullback jersey. (Who knows, we may even see Greeff in number 10.)

If that's the case, just where do Russell and Hougaard fit into the mix? Will White be blind to the vision they offer? Do they have a future as pivotal playmakers? Or will Brent forever be seen as just an impact player? Is Derick really nothing more than a big boot, as Joubert would have us believe?

Bey, for one, doesn't think so. "We're coaching the talent out of talented players," he told me. "Why is schoolboy rugby so strong? Something happens between school and senior representative rugby, and it must be the coaching.

"And now days the schoolboys watch the Boks, and they want to be told where to go and what to do from every situation. They want to be placed in a comfort zone. If, as a coach, you say to them, 'you make up your mind, you read the situation and do what you think is correct', they don't like it.

"I think that's a very South African reaction: 'you tell me what to do and I'll do it'."

Do you agree? Tell Duane what you think.

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