Former Springbok Francois Hougaard warming up before a game against Argentina in Port Elizabeth. File picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Francois Hougaard is talking through the tattoos which cover his arms, legs and torso. Underneath the rose gold Rolex and designer clothing, the ink tells the story of triumph and tragedy for a Springbok who has found his place in a quiet corner of the Worcestershire countryside.

A date — 21.11.2009 — marks the day he made his Springbok debut. The roman numerals — DCCCVII — record his cap number. The image of Greek god Poseidon represents his selection for the 2016 Olympics.

Alongside his sporting journey, there are Greek scripts, gemstones and koi fish associated with good luck. The most pertinent, however, is the text on his bicep about cherishing life. It reads: "Every person’s life is a fairytale written by God’s hands. Honour your character and embrace your life experiences."

Explaining the choice of words, Hougaard speaks lovingly about his family, while touching on the impact of losing people. "It’s been tough sometimes but I’m fortunate to have a great life," he says.

I ask about losing his ex-girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot dead on Valentine’s Day, 2013, by Paralympian Oscar Pistorius. Hougaard was in the middle of the media inquest, with some reports claiming he sent a text message which sparked a row on the night of the killing.

"Reeva and I dated for quite a while," he says, in a rare interview at his home in the Worcestershire countryside, which he describes as his "happy place".

"One of my best mates phoned me at 7 o’clock when I was playing golf to tell me what had happened. He was the first to get to the house. It’s a shock when you hear something like that, isn’t it? It’s tough.

Reeva Steenkamp File picture: Ice Model Management/AP

"Everyone was saying I sent Reeva a message and that’s why he shot her. I had nothing to do with her any more but it’s all people were asking me about. Mentally, that was a really tough thing to go through."

The case lasted months. It shaped Hougaard’s sporting determination and his entrepreneurial drive.

"It was tough because rugby is 80 percent mental," he says. "If you’re not mentally where you need to be, then you’re not going to play well.

"I went to see a psychologist to talk about it. That taught me to deal with negative situations. That taught me to turn things into positive fuel and not to sulk.

"When you’re young, you might wake up with a sore shoulder and think “Ah, I’m not really keen for training”. Once something really seriously bad happens, it just adds some perspective. You don’t sulk about getting dropped or a niggle. It makes you appreciate what you’ve got."

Now Hougaard is happy with his lot — although he wants more.

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