Francois Hougaard has again reiterated that he had no contact with Reeva Steenkamp shortly before she was shot by Oscar Pistorius.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, the Springbok scrumhalf – who nowadays turns out for English club Worcester Warriors – revealed that the continuous rumours over his alleged role in the tragic incident heaped enormous “mental pressure” on him.
“Everyone was saying I sent Reeva a message and that’s why (Oscar) shot her. I had nothing to do with her any more but it’s all people were asking me about. Mentally, that was a really tough thing to go through,” said the 31-year-old.
“Reeva and I dated for quite a while. One of my best mates phoned me at seven o’clock when I was playing golf to tell me what had happened. He was the first to get to the house. It’s a shock when you hear something like that, isn’t it? It’s tough.”
Adding to the pressure was the fact that the tragedy came at a delicate stage of Hougaard’s career, where there was increasing expectations that he would be the long-term successor for the legendary Fourie du Preez in the Green-and-Gold.
Fearing what the high-profile court case could do to his confidence, the former Bull sought professional help.
“It was tough because rugby is 80 per cent mental. If you’re not mentally where you need to be, then you’re not going to play well,” said Hougaard.
“I went to see a psychologist to talk about it. That taught me to deal with negative situations. That taught me to turn things into positive fuel and not to sulk.
“When you’re young, you might wake up with a sore shoulder and think ‘Ah, I’m not really keen for training’. Once something really seriously bad happens, it just adds some perspective. You don’t sulk about getting dropped or a niggle. It makes you appreciate what you’ve got.”
Hougaard hasn’t been seen at international level since 2017’s depressing 57-0 drubbing at the hands of the All Blacks in Albany, but still believes he can make this year’s World Cup squad.
His case is certainly strengthened by the fact that two of Rassie Erasmus’ rookie halfbacks – Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier – haven’t really kicked on from last year.
“You play the game to represent your country, don’t you?’ he says. ‘My deal here is negotiated on the basis that I don’t play for the Spingboks, but the World Cup is a bit different I guess. If it works out with my club and I get to go to the World Cup then great, but that’s not my focus.”