Stuart Hogg: Now it’s our turn to inspire the nation
Stuart Hogg joined Lewis Capaldi, Jackie Stewart, Kenny Dalgish, Craig Brown and Graeme Souness in delivering video good luck messages to the Scotland football team ahead of their Euro 2020 play-off against Serbia on Thursday night.
Steve Clarke’s side duly delivered, winning a penalty shoot-out in Belgrade to end a 22-year exile from the finals of a major tournament.
Hogg watched enthralled and wants the national rugby side to pick up the baton against Italy in Florence this afternoon.
It’s the opening match of the Scots’ Autumn Nations Cup campaign and Gregor Townsend’s side have designs on winning the new tournament.
A run of three victories in a row in the Six Nations and a further success in the friendly against Georgia have bolstered confidence and Hogg hopes the efforts of the footballers can further lift his players who share training facilities with Clarke’s side.
“We were absolutely delighted for the football boys,” said the Scotland captain. “They’ve been around the Oriam for the last few weeks so it’s great to see them succeed. For the nation, what they achieved was massive. A lot of us sat around and watched the game and we were absolutely buzzing for it.
“The big thing which hit home was that we are there to inspire the nation and the football boys did exactly that. Now it’s our turn, it’s our turn to inspire the nation and put smiles on people’s faces.
“It has been a tough year for everybody so if we can play a small part by putting smiles on people’s faces by getting results for everybody then that’s us doing our jobs.
“How good would it be if we were to win on Saturday? It would cap a great week for Scottish sport and that’s our aim.”
The footballers extended their unbeaten run to nine with the result in Belgrade so their rugby counterparts have a little way to go. But four wins in a row is not to be sniffed at and If they beat the Italians they will be just one result away from their best-ever runs of six straight victories in 1925-26 and 1989-90.
After Florence, Scotland are due to host France and Fiji at BT Murrayfield, although a question mark hangs over the latter game after this weekend’s match between the other two Group B sides had to be cancelled following a spate of positive Covid-19 tests in the Fijian camp.
Hogg is aware Scotland’s Nations Cup credentials are being talked up after the win in Wales last month.
“We would love to be in a position to win it but we can’t look too far ahead,” he said. “We face Italy on Saturday afternoon and that’s all we are focusing on. After that we will concentrate on France but we can’t look too far ahead as we need to kick off this tournament in the best possible way.”
Scotland are playing a Test match in Florence for the first time. The Stadio Artemio Franchi is usually home to Serie A side Fiorentina and its tight pitch will shape Scotland’s tactics.
Speaking earlier in the week, Townsend anticipated a kicking game from the Italians as he mulled over his team selection.
“It’s supposed to be good weather, so we can expect more ball in play,” said the coach. “The pitch is tighter - it’s a football pitch, which I think is 65 wide by 95 long, which is five metres shorter and narrower than Murrayfield, so that means there may be more long kicking in the game.
“So that goes into the mix. Continuity and cohesion are really important: the squad that beat Wales deserve the opportunity, in the majority, to go again this week and build on what we’ve done. I think that’s important, that we don’t just make lots of changes one week.”
One change forced upon Scotland is at stand-off, where Duncan Weir steps up following injuries to Finn Russell and Adam Hastings. Hogg said Weir had been “a breath of fresh air around the camp”.
"He’s a lot more relaxed nowadays than he was a few years ago,” said the Scotland captain. “He comes in with great energy, wanting to learn and improve on a daily basis and to keep the spirits high.
“But he also understands that he needs to drive us around the field. He’s old enough and ugly enough now to realise that.
“He’s been brilliant since coming back in. Gregor, I believe, chatted to him at the start of the autumn to say he wouldn’t hesitate to put Duncy in. He’s been given an opportunity now and hopefully he and his wig can direct us around the field tomorrow.”
The latter remark was a jest about Weir’s post-lockdown hairstyle but Hogg knows the autumn campaign is a serious matter and last year’s World Cup disappointment in Japan still stings.
“You just need to look at this time last year when we were home early from the World Cup having said a lot about doing special things, and to be honest with you we were nowhere good enough, nowhere near our best,” Hogg said.
“From my point of view, I looked at myself first and then looked at how we can improve as a team, and I think everybody in the squad has done that.
“I think we were all just playing within ourselves during that period, but now we understand what it means to play for Scotland, what it means to let yourself go – and the boys are enjoying it, that’s the main thing, you see us with smiles on our faces because we’re getting confidence from winning the scrum battle, building driving mauls, line-breaks, whatever it may be. We are enjoying it as individuals and as a team.”
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.