STUART Hogg has been backed to play a starring role in this summer’s British & Irish Lions tour of Australia.
The Scotland star is the youngest member of Warren Gatland’s 37-man squad to jet Down Under. But big things are expected of the full-back, who set the Six Nations alight with his devastating turn of pace.
Fellow Lion-in-waiting Sean Maitland spent four seasons playing Super Rugby with the Crusaders and knows all about success Down Under. And he reckons Hogg has what it takes to cause mayhem against the Wallabies.
Maitland said: “He’s 20 years old and he’s probably the most exciting player to come out of Scotland. Scotland probably hasn’t seen a player like him for quite a while. He’s young, he’s ambitious and he’s got no fear. You see how he carries the ball back and how electric he can be. He’s got a massive career in front of him. He can get even better in Australia. He’s rapid, and if you put him on a hard tack he will skin people.”
Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny is a favourite to pull on the No 15 jersey in the first Test Down Under. But former Scotland wing Kenny Logan reckons the Wales ace should be moved out wide to accommodate “match-winner” Hogg. He said: “It depends how Warren sees the back three. You could shift Halfpenny to the wing and bring Hogg in at full-back He’s a match-winner and has a very good chance of becoming a major player. The first game will be dominated by a lot of Welsh players but the thing about a Lions tour is, once you are there, everyone has a chance.
“He will definitely be on the bench for the Test matches because he can cover so many different positions. But you just don’t know how guys will play and how they will respond to being on tour. It’s very exciting.”
Maitland is also hoping he can continue his meteoric rise in the Test arena.
The Glasgow Warriors wing, who qualified for Scotland through his grandparents, only made the switch from New Zealand at the beginning of the season. He made his international debut during the Six Nations and still has to pinch himself following his Lions call. But he is relishing the opportunity to roar against the Wallabies.
He said: “It’s been a crazy six months for me. I would never have thought I’d be sat here with the Lions, involved with all these great players.
“I thought I’d be knuckling down for another Super Rugby season but I made the decision to come over and try to play for Scotland.
“It just happened to be a Lions year – it really was just a coincidence. It’s been a rollercoaster ride – it’s been a dream.
“I’m honoured to be selected and I can’t wait to get started. It sends shivers down my spine.”
Maitland played under Gatland when beginning his career at Waikato but turned his back on the Mooloo Men to join Crusaders.
Gatland clearly holds no hard feelings against the 24-year-old, who was in the Jade Stadium crowd as the All Blacks recorded a 21-3 first Test victory against the Lions in the 2005 series, but he is ready to knuckle down to secure a place against the Wallabies.
Maitland said: “One of my last memories of Warren was telling him that I was heading down to Canterbury!
“I was nervous the first time I saw him with the Lions coaches during the Six Nations so I don’t know if I’ll bring that up with him. Looking ahead to the tour, it will definitely be a step up from Test-match rugby. You can see from how well the Aussie sides are playing in the Super XV just how great the Wallaby side is going to be.
“Talking to guys who have been on previous tours, they gave me some good advice and told me that you’ve just got to get stuck in and be the first guy to introduce yourself to everyone. That’s what I’m going to try and do.
“There’s five games before the first Test, so everyone’s got a chance to show their worth. I just need to be myself, have a good time and try to prove myself. My speed is probably my main asset and I like to try and get as many touches on the ball as possible. Hopefully, the dry grounds down in Australia will mean I can express myself and have some fun.”