The pace was too hot to handle at times and he knows he has a lot to work on, but a few magical touches in Dubai at the weekend showed that Hougaard can become a force in Sevens rugby.
Hougaard, brought in from the 15-man code to bolster the Springbok Sevens squad ahead of the Rio Olympic Games next year, battled initially in his first foray into the shortened version of the game in the opening round of the World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai.
But he rounded off a disappointing tournament for the South Africans with a trademark click of his feet to dash over for the winning try against Australia in the Plate final.
The match went into extra time at 14-14, but after about a minute, the ball found its way to Hougaard. He was in a one-on-one situation with a defender just inside the Australian 22, but with a sway of the hips and a quick step inside and then out, Hougaard was over in the corner to dot down the deciding try for a 19-14 victory.
It was scant consolation for the Blitzboks, who was bundled out of the main Cup competition by new giant-killers USA, who beat them 21-19 in controversial circumstances on Saturday morning South African time. The Americans also accounted for New Zealand twice in the tournament – once in the pool stages, and then in the third-place playoff.
But his direct involvement in helping to win the Plate final could be a turning point of sorts for Hougaard, who made a few mistakes in the pool games and appeared to struggle a bit to keep up with the relentless highs intensity of Sevens rugby.
Speaking about that winning five-pointer on Sunday on arrival from Dubai at the Cape Town International Airport, Hougaard said: “It’s not something you plan - it happens out of instinct, and I just thought that I must score! And it happened. But it was an awesome ending to the game.
“It’s a much more technical game than a lot of people think. Many people see it as just a few guys running around, and that it’s rather easy. But you are actually very vulnerable most of the time. The ball in play is also seven or eight minutes – where you work non-stop – which is relatively high where you don’t stand still. I think it’s an amazing game.
“Russia, my first game… obviously you will make mistakes, but it’s great because you always learn from it. I was very comfortable in the last game (against Australia) as well, and it was a great experience.”
Hougaard believes that he will anticipate the play and keep up with the pace as time goes on, despite a gruelling Sevens pre-season. “It is about the experience, and the more I play, the better I will get,” he said.
“Training will get you to a certain level, but the more you play, the more experience you pick up. You see things in attack and defence, which you will only pick up in games. That is how you can work on your mistakes, and do your video analysis to come back better and stronger. And smarter!”
The Blitzboks will go all out to win their home tournament once more following their success last year in Port Elizabeth, and with the 55 000-seater Cape Town Stadium sold out for both Saturday and Sunday, it’s sure to be a memorable tournament.
Coach Neil Powell will find out on Monday if playmaker Cecil Afrika (hamstring) and World Player of the Year Werner Kok (knee) will be ready to play this weekend. The Blitzboks have been drawn in Pool B with Dubai finalists England, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Hougaard cannot wait to get out on to the field.
“It was an unbelievable experience (in Dubai) – apart from the playing and training and all that, the vibe and atmosphere at the stadiums… Just the build-up to it is spectacular,” he said.
“Obviously Cape Town is going to be much bigger than that, and I don’t think any of us wanted any other place than Cape Town. It’s been a great four-five weeks, and this weekend has been pretty amazing.”
Blitzboks Pool B Fixtures (Saturday)
12.49pm: Zimbabwe, 4.10pm: Kenya, 7.56pm: England.
Original source: Hougaard can rock Cape Sevens