WHEN an opening beckons on the rugby field, Stuart Hogg never needs a second invitation to make the most of it, and the same was true when he was asked to join the Scotland Sevens squad for the Commonwealth Games.
The 22-year-old and his fiancée Gillian Smith were about to book a holiday in Greece when director of rugby Scott Johnson suggested a different way to spend the end of July. Tommy Seymour needed rest because of a neck injury, so the squad needed a new member. It meant an entirely different challenge for Hogg, who had no previous professional experience of sevens, but it was one he was more than happy to accept.
“Johnno had a wee chat with me on the last week on tour as Tommy was struggling with his neck and he asked me if I wanted to play,” Hogg said yesterday. “I bit his hand off when I got the chance. I wanted to play. I’d hardly played any rugby since the Six Nations and this was a chance to put on another Scotland jersey.
“It’s my first experience of sevens and I’m proud of that. It will be tough, but I’ve learned a lot and I have the right players and coaching staff to help me around. I’ve not had a great season performance-wise. I had form only for a month or two, so it’s been a difficult season. This is a chance to end it on a high – it’s a positive, exciting thing for me at the end of the season.”
This time last year Hogg was on tour with the Lions in Australia, having impressed the selectors with his attacking enterprise. As he said, this year’s Six Nations was not such a happy time for him, particularly the Wales match, when he was sent off for barging into home stand-off Dan Biggar.
But the virtues which made him a Lion are still there. What he now needs to do to be a success in the coming tournament is learn to adapt to the abbreviated code, which he knows has moved on significantly even in the short time since his last participation.
“Last time I played sevens was for Hawick in the Jed-Forest Sevens in 2010,” he explained. “I was with Glasgow at the time but just in the academy. Before that, I played on the Borders Sevens circuit.
“Back in the day, it was just get the ball and try and score if you could. Now there are structures in place, the laws around the breakdown are quite difficult, but I feel I’ve grasped it. The buzz is there because the Commonwealth Games is round the corner.
“I need to go out there and enjoy my rugby and help the team. I’ve set the aim of winning a medal and obviously we’d like to win it. What better way to start against New Zealand? We have 12 great individuals who can go out there and do well.
“It wasn’t easy to just step in straight away – there’s a lot of work to be done. We need to enjoy the occasion. It’s in our own backyard so it’s an exciting time.
“It’s great playing in front of a home crowd. Ibrox holds 45,000 and we want to put in a performance that the whole nation can be proud of.”
Hogg and his team-mates will be some 400 miles south of Ibrox today, when they compete at the Sevens And The City tournament at Saracens’ ground in north London. England, Wales and Kenya are also taking part.
Scotland may have boosted their squad with established internationals such as Hogg and Sean Lamont, but they are far from the only ones: South Africa, for example, have called up Bryan Habana and Schalk Brits.
“That’s an indication of how seriously everybody is taking this,” Hogg added.
Meanwhile, Roddy Grant is determined to vindicate his Commonwealth Games selection after being reunited with Scotland Sevens.
Grant stopped playing sevens shortly before Delhi 2010 but the Edinburgh flanker’s Commonwealth chance has come after he was brought into a strengthened pool.
The 27-year-old said: “For not being a contracted sevens player and being called up, it’s very flattering that people think I can make a difference. That’s not lost on me.
“I owe Stephen Gemmell, the coach, and people above and I need to repay them and play well. It’s hugely flattering, humbling and exciting to be part of a Commonwealth Games squad and such a strong squad.”
Grant returned to sevens action two weeks ago at the Moscow 7s, where Scotland finished third behind England and Portugal, while most of the Glasgow 2014 squad will take part in a Sevens and the City competition at London’s Allianz Park on Saturday.
Grant said: “It was great to get a run-around and just get used to the game again. We didn’t play to our ability, we came third, but the last game we played really well and we are looking to continue that.
“In Moscow, we probably had half our Commonwealth squad so it will be great to play with the full squad this weekend.
“It has the same oval ball and pitch but, apart from that, it’s a very different game. You have to get used to positioning, running lines. You are very isolated and there is loads of space. It’s all about getting your body used to moving in certain ways and working with each other again. I feel fully into the swing of things again.”
Grant and his team-mates then have two weeks to prepare for Glasgow 2014 and the welcome that awaits at Ibrox.