JUST about everything is going right for Stuart Hogg at the moment. He had a hand in three of Scotland’s four tries in the win over Italy on Saturday, put in what was surely the most impressive defensive performance of his 53 caps, and became a father again last week to. It could also be said, albeit a touch cynically, that he was the only member of the Scottish squad to emerge from the defeat by England a week earlier with his Lions credentials intact, given he left the field with a head knock very early in the match.
Every player has their ups and downs, of course, and Hogg’s career is no exception. But when you compare the full-back’s game on Saturday to his last for Scotland before Vern Cotter took over - the 51-3 defeat in Wales in which Hogg was sent off - the contrast is stark.
Not that he spends much time looking that far back. As he explained, one of the key ingredients in Cotter’s recipe for transforming Scotland was his insistence on concentrating on what is immediately in front of you. “It's tricky to look back, because we concentrate on staying in the moment,” Hogg said after the 29-0 win over Italy. “That's a big thing for him.
“We didn't really talk about the game last week: it was all about the game in hand. We had a challenging week after a hefty defeat, didn't train the way we wanted to because we were uptight and nervous about what was coming. But we expressed ourselves and you can see by the end that we wanted the bonus point, and we got it.”
Hogg has been known for his attacking prowess from his earliest days as a club player, and at times his defensive awareness has been called into question. There was never any chance of that happening on Saturday, however, as twice he played the leading role in denying Italy apparently certain tries.
Both incidents came early in the second half during a period of play in which Scotland captain John Barclay was sinbinned and the Italians enjoyed a lot of pressure. When the siege was relieved, the roar of the crowd told its own story.
“It was tremendous,” Hogg continued. “It all kind of started with my duff kick which went into touch and we were down there for 10 to 15 minutes.
“In all honesty, it was getting a bit boring because there was nothing coming out wide, but credit to the boys up front because I thought they dug deep and stuck to it. Being a man down, it was terrific defence and for us to exit with them not scoring a point was tremendous. It just shows that the characters we've got in the squad wanted to defend that line with everything.
“I have been fairly disappointed with the way I have defended, but you're never the complete player. I’ve worked hard on it and thankfully it worked today. But one game isn’t good enough for me: it's onto the next game now.”
The next game for Hogg’s Glasgow is the PRO12 match on Saturday at home to Connacht. The next game for Scotland will be against Italy on tour, probably in Singapore en route to Australia, by which time Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend will have taken over from Cotter as coach of the national team.
“We've now got a tour to Australia that we’re very much looking forward to,” Hogg added. “Gregor is coming in and the Glasgow boys are very much aware of what he’ll bring. It’s an exciting time for Scottish rugby.
“We tend to play expansive rugby and for us nothing really changes between Glasgow and Scotland. Both coaches want to play expansively with everyone sharing the workload and getting tries.”
Saturday was Hogg’s 53rd Scotland cap - a record for a Hawick player, surpassing three others who had finished their international careers on 52. Much to Hogg’s delight, one of the trio, Jim Renwick, sent him a message of congratulations not long before the game.
“I'm chuffed to bits with that,” the full-back said of becoming the record-holder. “That's where it all started for me. I actually got a message from Jim Renwick this morning, which was really nice of him.
“He just said he was chuffed to see me break his record. I think it was him, Colin Deans and Tony Stanger all on 52. I'm chuffed with that. That's when it all started for me and the best part was pulling on the green jersey.
“It was always a dream to play for Scotland and then these things happen. I believe if Jim Renwick played in the modern game he would have 100-plus caps.”
Still just 24, Hogg will surely reach that total himself long before his playing days are over.
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