The Vodacom Bulls are set to succeed in signing Johan Goosen, but it no longer appears that Francois Hougaard will make the move to Loftus. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Earlier this year, it was confirmed that both Hougaard and Goosen were firmly on the Bulls’ radar as the Currie Cup champions sought to bolster their backline stock with two experienced Springboks who also boast northern-hemisphere experience.
Hougaard, 33, has been plying his trade for the Worcester Warriors since 2016, having moved to the English club after eight years with the Bulls.
Meanwhile, Goosen had been linked with a possible move to the Bulls for some time as the Pretoria-based franchise has been on the look-out for another flyhalf option to add to their squad.
There are still final elements to conclude before the Bulls have the green light to announce Goosen’s signing, but SARugbymag.co.za understands it is a done deal for all intents and purposes.
It’s a return to South African rugby for Goosen that will certainly be watched with keen interest. As a product of the Grey College conveyer belt of Test-quality players, the versatile backline star would go on to make his Springbok debut at the age of 20 when he came off the bench to face Australia in 2012.
Yet, in the years to come, Goosen’s once bright-light career prospects would be dimmed by ill-fated decisions, primarily related to both joining French giants Racing 92 and then controversially quitting his contract under the guise of retiring to work on a farm in Bloemfontein.
Eventually, Goosen came out of retirement to join Montpellier as he looked to make the most of a ‘second chance’ after admitting he had matured as both a player and person after years of ups and downs on and off the field.
At the Bulls, Goosen – who is still only 28 years old – will be a strong contender for the No 10 jersey, but could just as easily slot in at fullback when one considers Gio Aplon will turn 39 later this year.
It would have been a significant double coup if the Bulls had also succeeded in signing Hougaard, particularly considering scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl is in line to join former English Premiership champions Saracens later this year.
Although it was believed that Hougaard had initially agreed to terms to join the Bulls, it was recently reported that he was mulling over his options – with the consideration of acquiring British citizenship said to be part of his decision-making.
Having moved to England in 2016, Hougaard is expected to qualify to apply for British citizenship at the end of the 2021 season.
Whether this was the overriding factor in his decision is unknown, but whatever the case may be, it’s understood that Hougaard will not be following in Goosen’s footsteps to Loftus.
Meanwhile, Springbok utility back Damian Willemse is another player who has been linked heavily with a possible move to the Bulls, but he remains under contract at WP Rugby.
Should a window open for negotiations, though, he remains a player the Bulls do rate highly and would be willing to take a look at.