Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg will start his first game at stand-off in three-and-a-half years when he dons the Glasgow No 10 jersey for the first time against Treviso in Italy this afternoon.
It is a position he played as a schoolboy growing up in Hawick, filled the pivotal berth for the British and Irish Lions with some success in a 2013 tour match against a Combined New South Wales and Queensland Country select and Warriors coach Gregor Townsend views today’s Guinness Pro12 encounter to test the 24-year-old’s playmaking chops, with Finn Russell rested.
“He has obviously covered there a number of times, gone there during games and, in our last three games, he’s been the replacement ten, but Finn’s played 80 minutes,” explained Townsend.
“So this is a chance for us to see him there if he’s going to be our back-up ten for our next Champions Cup game [at home to Munster next month] but also I feel it’s a better use of him, and Peter Murchie coming back [at full-back], who’s been playing well, with an experienced player in Rory [Clegg] on the bench.”
Asked what he thinks makes Hogg suited to the more advanced role, Townsend said: “His skill-set. He’s a very good passer of the ball, a good kicker and now has a level of experience and knowledge of our attacking shape that allows him to control what we do in attack.
“He can make decisions on where there is space to attack. He has a very good running game and, while it’s suited more to full-back and running onto the ball, he can still take it as a first receiver too.”
The coach said that it was not a move the player himself had been pushing for but one with which he was comfortable with and positive about.
“I said to him a few weeks ago ‘you’re going to cover ten this week’ and he said ‘great’,” said Townsend.
“He’s loved being full-back after his first year where he played a bit of 13, and he certainly wanted to play full-back more than 13. Getting his hands on the ball more was always the goal and probably the conventional wisdom back then was that he needed to be playing ten to get his hands on the ball more.
“But, actually, 15s now get it 15-20 times in a game, from kicks and the way we try to get our 15s involved he’s been getting on the ball in second or third phase as first receiver.
“Now he’s going to have 40 or 50 touches of the ball so I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes with that. But watching him today in training he’s very good at organising what we do in attack and we also want him running. He’s got the licence to take people on if there’s space ahead of him.”
Tommy Seymour returns on the left wing after sitting out the 25-12 win at Edinburgh on Boxing Day, with Henry Pyrgos captaining the side as Jonny Gray gets a week off.
Blindside flanker Adam Ashe makes his first start of the season after returning as a replacement in the 1872 Cup clash.
Fellow back-rower Rob Harley is poised to join a select club if he comes off the bench and makes his 150th appearance for the club. Only Graeme Morrison (177), Al Kellock (157), Jonny Petrie (155), Dougie Hall (153), John Barclay (152) and Moray Low (150) have previously reached that milestone.
Glasgow will clearly start as favourites but Townsend warned that Treviso are on a decent run and will be no pushovers. “They have won their last three games and beat Bayonne in France and at home in Europe, and Zebre, who are a good side,” said the coach. “So with three wins this will be new territory for them and they’ll be full of confidence. They also played a few days before Christmas to have had a good rest, whereas we’ve had a five-day turnaround, and at home they’re always strong.”