TALISMANIC scrum-half Francois Hougaard earned the praise of Sixways chief Gary Gold after he marked his return from injury with an influential performance to guide Warriors to their first Premiership win of the season.
The 29-year-old played for 73 minutes in the 30-15 win over Northampton Saints at Sixways on Saturday, during which time he dictated play and set up Bryce Heem to storm over for his second try, before being replaced by Michael Dowsett.
It was the South African’s first appearance for Worcester this season, having initially been away on international duty with the Springboks in the Rugby Championship, before being sent home prematurely following his nation’s 57-0 humbling to the All Blacks.
It was hoped Hougaard would make his domestic return against Saracens in early October, but upon returning to Sixways, checks by Worcester’s medical department found he had an undiagnosed injury which resulted in shoulder surgery.
Gold believes the scrum-half was treated ‘unjustly’ by South Africa but is happy the ‘world-class leader’ is now 100 per cent fit and committed to Warriors.
“It was a hair-raising 73 minutes as he has had such a terrible run of luck,” said Gold. “It’s taken a little bit longer (for him to return due to injury) but it is what it is. At the end of the day player welfare is the most important thing.
“There’s no way we could’ve played a player who was struggling with an injury, so we’ve had to do everything to make sure he’s in a healthy state, and I think he is now.
“He’s a seasoned campaigner, gainline breaker and leader. He’s a very good rugby player who can dictate a game and people around him are going to have confidence when he plays.
“He was chomping at the bit to get back out there. It was very disappointing for him to exit the Springboks in the way he did. I think it was very unfortunate and unjust in the way he was treated.
“But he’s 100 per cent committed to our cause, so we just have to make sure he remains 100 per cent fit. The fact of the matter is we’ve got a world-class player back who hasn’t played this year and he’s made a difference. That’s the truth.”