CAPE TOWN – The date was 29 May, 2010, and the occasion was the Super Rugby final – Bulls vs Stormers at Orlando Stadium in Soweto, of all places.
With nearly 24 minutes gone on the clock, master scrumhalf Fourie du Preez bent down to pick up the ball, sucked in Francois Louw and delivered the perfect offload to a flying Hougaard.
Never mind that the biggest man on the field, Stormers giant Andries Bekker, was nearby – he didn’t even see Hougaard coming.
Then just 22, Hougaard ran a dazzling line from deep and at such ferocious speed that he was gone just as Bekker stopped crabbing across to nail Danie Rossouw, who was already marked by Duane Vermeulen on the outside.
In a flash, Hougaard was through the gap and lining up Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen. There is only a 3cm difference in height between the two, so Pietersen had a fighter’s chance of bringing down Hougaard – mullet hairstyle and all.
But the reality proved different as Hougaard absolutely smoked his man to score a sensational try (and he was chosen as the Man of the Match).
Hougaard, who had battled to make the WP team in 2007, was the next big thing in South African rugby.
Now, seven years later, Hougaard is about to run out at North Harbour Stadium in Albany as the starting scrumhalf for the Springboks against the All Blacks.
Born in Paarl and having come through Paul Roos Gymnasium, Hougaard had always had quick feet, and that 2010 Bulls try was scored as a wing.
But he sees himself as a scrumhalf, and has earned 27 of his 45 Test caps as a halfback, with the other 18 at wing.
By all accounts, Hougaard has excelled at No 9 in the last year-and-a-half or so at Worcester Warriors in England.
But he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory when he started against Argentina in Salta last month, where his indecision at the base and bad habit to take a few steps before passing the ball stifled the Boks’ rhythm on attack.
The All Black showdown, though, presents Hougaard with a better than ever chance to prove that he can play the technical scrumhalf game – clearing the ball quickly to the flyhalf, passing from the spot instead of getting momentum from running first, and producing box-kicks that are high enough and far enough.
If he can get that right, and adds the X-factor with ball-in-hand that we all know he possesses, he could bring some much-needed spark to a Springbok backline that lacked a bit of creativity in the 23-23 draw against the Wallabies in Perth last week.
Where is that Francois Hougaard from the 2010 Super Rugby final? Will the real Francois Hougaard please stand up? The Springboks need you…