Stuart Hogg on winning in Wales and doing it for Hawick
There is a sense of unfinished business about Scotland’s appointment in Llanelli this afternoon.
The feeling within the group is that had circumstances not intervened in March then Gregor Townsend’s team would have finished their Six Nations campaign with three consecutive victories. “Wales were there for the taking,” is how Scotland skills coach Mike Blair puts it.
Coronavirus caused the match to be postponed, disrupting the momentum that had built up with back-to-back successes against Italy and France. Scotland have never won three in a row since the Championship expanded in 2000 but that prize remains on offer.
Wales, by contrast, have lost three Six Nations game on the bounce and there was little in last week’s friendly defeat by France to suggest they had turned the corner.
History is on their side, of course, and returning captain Stuart Hogg needed no reminding that it is 18 long years since the Scots won in Wales.
“That’s long enough for us now,” the full-back said, not unreasonably. “We feel in a very good place and were very excited about the challenge of taking on Wales pre-Covid so the big thing for us is that we believe we could have gone down there and won at the time, and we have the exact same mindset.
“We know what they’re about but for us it’s just about concentrating on ourselves and making sure we implement our game plan. The coaches have given us a structure and a gameplan to go out there and win so it’s now up to the players to execute that and enjoy ourselves.”
Hogg missed the Georgia game last week because he was helping Exeter complete the second leg of a double that saw the Chiefs add the English Premiership title to the Heineken Champions Cup they had won the week before. A win in Wales would, he says, make it a nice hat-trick.
“It would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it? All I want to do is to play my best in every single opportunity I get. For me, there is no better feeling than winning in a Scotland jersey so I’m going to do everything I possibly can against Wales to make sure that happens. We know it’s going to be a huge challenge, but this is the reason you picked up the ball as a kid. You want to be involved in these huge games.”
The weather won’t be good at an empty Parc y Scarlets – the forecast is rain and gales – but Hogg believes Scotland have the players and the tactics to adapt.
“We’ve talked about it all week and we’re fully aware of the weather conditions. We know that we might have to adapt our gameplan at times and that we might have to resort to a kicking game a lot more than we’d like to. It’s another challenge but it’s exactly the same for both teams, but as long as we defuse their kicking game and apply a lot of pressure on to them then we give ourselves every opportunity. We’d ideally like a dry day and a dry ball but we can’t pick the weather conditions, unfortunately, so we’ll just have to suck it up and get on with it.”
The return of Finn Russell could be key to Scotland smashing the Welsh hoodoo and Hogg hopes the conditions won’t dampen the stand-off’s influence.
“I’m a huge fan of the way that Finn Russell plays rugby,” said the full-back. “You’ve just got to give that guy the licence to express himself. He’s been playing some outstanding rugby for Racing over the last few months and hopefully he can continue that form. It’s been great to have him back. His experience is one thing and the way he speaks to boys is another – he really drives standards and drives us around the field.
“We have touched on the weather conditions all week. We all know fine well when it is on to play and when to get rid of the ball and defend. Finn has been at the forefront of that. He has a terrific kicking game and his game management is right up there with the best in the world. Hopefully, he can put us in the right areas and make sure we are constantly going forward.”
Hogg also revealed he was involved in the talks to broker a peace deal between Russell and Scotland coach Gregor Townsend which brought the fly-half back into the fold following his well-documented exile after a “breach of team protocols”.
“Obviously I’ve chatted a fair amount to both Finn and Gregor over the lockdown, and it was always going to be the case that Finn would be back in a Scotland jersey,” said Hogg. “He’s a world class talent and he’s excited to be back making a difference.”
Hogg is one of three Hawick men in the Scotland starting XV, a source of great pride for the captain and fellow Teries Rory Sutherland and Darcy Graham.
“It’s a pretty special moment for us. I think it’s been 29 years since three Hawick men took the field together so I’m absolutely delighted,” said Hogg. “We’ve not done bad for a small town.
“I think as a kid growing up all I wanted to do was play for Hawick. I think for Hawick men we understand what it means to play rugby and to represent Hawick first and foremost and then your country.
“I believe we have 60 players from Hawick that have played for Scotland which is among the highest for any club in Scotland.
“It’s a very, very special place. Growing up there it’s rugby or horses or football and thankfully a lot of boys decide to play rugby. Obviously, we’ve not been in a great place as a club for last few years but I’m sure we’ll be up there with the best in Scotland soon enough.”
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