Hougaard to leave Bulls

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Whatever it is, the departure of players at the Bulls over the years have had a direct impact on their inept performances in Super Rugby and the news that star Springbok Francois Hougaard will be joining Japanese outfit Canon Eagles will be a major blow to the franchise.

The Japanese club, who are coached by former Springbok lock Albert van der Berg, confirmed yesterday that Hougaard along with Springbok fullback Willie le Roux will be joining them after the Rugby World Cup but there is still uncertainty whether Hougaard will return to Loftus next year to play Super Rugby.

Hougaard’s future hangs in the balance as the Bulls are yet to table an extension of his current contract which expires at the end of October.

There is also interest from European clubs for Hougaard, who is the Bulls’ second highest paid player behind captain Pierre Spies and has played all of his professional rugby in Pretoria after being poached from the Western Cape.

“I’m really glad I can become a member of the Canon Eagles after the World Cup. I’ve watched the game highlights of the Top League over the past two years and I saw they were technically very good, and I could feel a strong passion. I’m looking forward to being able to compete in this high level environment. I’ll give my best for the Eagles to win the Top League,” Hou-gaard said in a press release.

Hougaard joins a growing list of star players who have opted not to continue their careers with the Bulls beyond the end of this year, including Springbok lock Flip van der Merwe (Clermont, France), promising loose forward Jacques du Plessis (Montpellier, France), Ullrich Beyer (Bordeaux-Begles, France), Wian Liebenberg (Montpellier, France), Akona Ndungane (retiring) and William Small-Smith (probably Cheetahs).

Spies’ future is also in the balance as there are rumours of offers from Japan while he is still waiting for the Bulls to table an extension of his existing contract which expires at the end of October.

While it may be true that the lure of the yen and euro is what draws many South African players abroad, in the case of the Bulls they seem to also be losing players due to a growing unhappiness at Loftus in the past few years.

After the mass exodus of their stars that helped them win three Super Rugby titles between 2007 and 2010, it came as no surprise that the likes of Fourie du Preez, Danie Rossouw, Bakkies Botha, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Wynand Olivier and Gary Botha would call time on their careers at Loftus for a lucrative retirement package in Europe and Japan. But the last two mass departures of players have raised eyebrows on the management of players at Loftus.

After the Bulls’ loss in the Super Rugby semi-final at home to the Brumbies two years ago, the likes of Chiliboy Ralepelle, Jacques Potgieter, Morné Steyn and Jano Vermaak were all deemed surplus to requirements at Loftus.

Last year saw the departure of Bongi Mbonambi to the Stormers while Franco Mostert, Warwick Tecklenburg, Courtnall Skosan, Andries Coetzee and Robbie Coetzee had all left two years ago and now form the backbone of the Lions.

This has also been compounded by the loss of experienced management staff who joined the national team three years ago while the likes of Pieter Rossouw and two other members of the current Bulls management will also vacate their positions at the end of October.

There is also the theory that the ongoing exodus could be a deliberate ploy from the powers that be in order for the new broom to sweep clean by the time Victor Matfield takes over the coaching reins. - The Star

Original source: Hougaard to leave Bulls

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