Gregor Townsend plays it safe with fit-again Hogg

Stuart Hogg is challenged by Ian Madigan in Glasgow's opening win over Leinster. Picture: SNS
Stuart Hogg is challenged by Ian Madigan in Glasgow's opening win over Leinster. Picture: SNS
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IT IS said a week can be a long time in politics but, for Stuart Hogg, the last seven days are sure to have put the Scotland international’s emotions in a tail-spin.

In Glasgow’s opening game of the fledgling Guinness Pro12 campaign the 22-year-old came off the bench against Leinster to slot a nerveless match-winning penalty in added time that handed the Scotstoun side an epic victory over the reigning league champions.

Now, just a week later, Hogg finds himself excluded from the matchday 23 that will travel to the BT Sport Arms Park to face Cardiff Blues tomorrow.

In fairness, the British Lion’s return was ahead of schedule and caused by injuries to Duncan Weir and Finn Russell that left Warriors dangerously short of stand-off cover for the Guinness Pro12 meeting with Matt O’Connor’s men.

Now, with Weir returning to the bench and Peter Horne shaking off a knee knock to start, the demands of Hogg’s tailor made recovery programme, which Glasgow hope will allow the versatile back to make a complete recovery from the rigours of his full-bodied contribution to the Scotland summer tour and help him reclaim his best form when the domestic and European campaigns merge in Autumn, have once again been adhered to.

With Gregor Townsend retaining faith in 11 of his 15 starters from the defeat of the Dubliners, his ability to select from a position of some strength has been underlined and the Glasgow head coach was pragmatic in his analysis of Hogg’s return to the sidelines. “Stuart’s pre-season has been run that bit later, although we brought him back against Leinster, injuries dictated that. So it was earlier than we would have liked and we would ideally have wanted to bring Hoggy back in round three or four. Most probably he will be back involved for the Dragons game,” admitted Townsend.

He continued: “But Stuart was there for the full four weeks of the Scotland summer tour and he played in all the games while Sean Lamont, for example, was just there for two weeks and so Hoggy came back a week later into pre-season than Sean.

“But Stuart has been fantastic and he has trained really well and that is why he was able to come back into the squad a week ahead of schedule and come off the bench and make such a great contribution for us.

“So this is all about managing our squad and making sure that we do everything we can to allow him to maximise his recovery from the summer.

While Hogg’s cameo last week was at 10, his preferred position remains at 15 and the continuing quiet efficiency of Peter Murchie at full-back has also allowed Glasgow to take their time with the Borderer.

Peter Horne’s recovery has also allowed Townsend to name the same starting half-back axis. Henry Pyrgos rewarded for his reliability and accurate service in favour of the more erratic Niko Matawalu, at nine.

In fact, the only change in the backs is the start handed to the bulldozing Sean Lamont on the left wing in preference to Lee Jones’ more subtle elusiveness.

Up front Pat MacArthur, despite a woeful throw-in that gift-wrapped Leinster a seemingly match-winning try last weekend, is preferred to Fraser Brown and Rossouw de Klerk makes his competitive debut at tight-head prop while Tim Swinson will partner Jonny Gray in the second row.

But Townsend has been further boosted by club captain Al Kellock’s BT Premiership club run-out with Glasgow Hawks at Gala today, which could pave the way for the big lock to feature for Warriors next Saturday at the Dragons.

“Al has trained well and will play for a period of the game today for Glasgow Hawks at Gala and we will see how that goes and it will be a similar idea for Tom Ryder for Currie against Edinburgh Accies,” said Townsend. The Glasgow head coach continued: “That will be a competitive game and, if Al comes through that, then he will be available for selection the following week.

“I think we have ten players out in the Premiership and I believe that is the best way for them to regain match fitness, recover from injury and just stay sharp if they are not involved with the first team.”

Turning his attention to the impending battle with the Blues, Townsend is keen to re-establish the record-breaking seven-game winning streak on the road that was such a fulcrum of the previous campaign’s success.

“Cardiff is a different environment with the artificial surface. The first time we played there, in the Heineken Cup, we let the pitch dictate the way we performed, it is faster underfoot and it just makes you want to move the ball around quickly but, when you do, it must be accurate and that was not the case in that game. But we had an excellent record on our travels last season and it was a huge part of our success and something that really underlines the character we have in the squad.

“Clearly tomorrow’s game will represent another examination of that and we are determined not to be found wanting.”

Cardiff

15 A Thomas

14 A Cuthbert

13 C Allen

12 G Evans

11 D Fish

10 R Patchell

9 L Jones

1 S Hobbs

2 M Rees (c)

3 A Jones

4 J Hoeata

5 F Paulo

6 J Turnbull

7 S Warburton

8 M Vosawai

Subs

16 K Dacey

17 T Filise

18 S Andrews

19 M Cook

20 J Navidi

21 L Williams

22 G Davies

23 R Smith

Glasgow

15 P Murchie

14 T Seymour

13 M Bennett

12 A Dunbar

11 S Lamont

10 P Horne

9 H Pyrgos

1 A Allan

2 P MacArthur

3 R de Klerk

4 T Swinson

5 J Gray

6 R Harley

7 C Fusaro

8 J Strauss (c)

Subs

16 F Brown

17 G Reid

18 J Yanuyanutawa

19 L Nakarawa

20 J Eddie

21 N Matawalu

22 D Weir

23 DJ vd Merwe