International rugby selection can be a strange and tormenting animal but Allister Hogg gave up worrying about it some time ago.
The 31-year-old was called by Scotland forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys a week ago and asked if he would be available to play for Scotland A, having been out of the full international picture for five years.
Playing at Newcastle after making a move from Edinburgh in a bid to revitalise a career that Scotland coach Andy Robinson had felt was becoming stale, Hogg could have been in Newcastle, Australia for all that Robinson seemed to care. Suddenly, a player who had made 48 appearances for Scotland in five years, 31 of them consecutively, before injury intervened, was considered to lack the ability to offer something to the back row.
The back row has undoubtedly become a terrific area of strength for Scotland in recent times but it was a strange call, and Robinson regularly had to fend off questions about the absence of this talented ball player.
Scott Johnson sent Humphreys to watch Hogg this season and the result is a call into the A team for tonight’s match against England Saxons. Hogg has no idea whether it will lead to a return to the full side, where David Denton, Kelly Brown, Johnnie Beattie and Ryan Wilson remain realistic contenders for the No 8 jersey. But he welcomes the opportunity to remind people he exists.
“Obviously, it depends what the coaches think and how the game goes, but I’d love to make 50 [caps],” said Hogg. “It’s been five years since I last played for a Scotland Test team [against Wales, 2009] and it is obviously a massive incentive for me to keep playing. Dean [Richards, Newcastle coach] asked me if I still wanted to play for Scotland and I told him that I wanted to get 50, and more than that if possible. Dean has been pretty supportive. He says it’s good for Newcastle for us to have as many people as possible playing international rugby. We’ve got Scott Lawson, and Fraser McKenzie and Grant Shiells was meant to be here [in the A squad] as well but he hurt his shoulder at the weekend.
“Sometimes coaches like you and sometimes they don’t,” Hogg added, reflecting on how he fell out of favour. “It’s just one of those things and there’s not much you can do about it. I tried to speak to him [Robinson]. I phoned him a few times but he never got back to me. But that’s the way it is, professional sport, it happens to a lot of players. It’s one of the things you have to take on the chin.
“Initially, you maybe take it personally but then you just get used to it. To be fair, I had just had a little girl, so it was nice to spend time at home. Obviously, now, a new regime has come in, they have taken a look at the performances I’ve been putting in for Newcastle and think I’ve been playing quite well. It’s nice that they recognise that. I’m pleased to be in and all I can do is take my opportunity and hopefully play as well as I can and see where it goes from there.”
Intriguingly, Hogg has spent the week rooming with A team captain Jonny Gray, who was just nine years old when Hogg made his Scotland debut. But he has quickly developed respect for the 19-year-old lock.
“Jonny is a young guy who captained the under 20s and knows his rugby well. He’s good. He’s quite a quiet guy who I think is going to lead by example. Certainly, in training he’s been doing that. Obviously I speak to him a lot and I’ve said that if there’s anything he needs a hand with when I’m there, I’ll help. I’m looking forward to playing with a lot of guys I’ve never played with before.”
Hogg may actually know more about an opponent than his own team, having played with England Saxons’ tighthead prop Scott Wilson at Newcastle, the youngster from Eyemouth having developed well through the English system and turned down approaches from the SRU to switch back over the past two years. The Saxons lost to Scotland A at Newcastle in horrendous conditions last year and the forecast suggests something similar tonight. But all the players are eager to use it as a platform to impress Scotland coaches. From stand-off Greig Tonks to centres Mark Bennett and Alex Grove – another player cast adrift by Robinson – as well as Gordon Reid, Rob Harley and newcomers Kieran Low and Blair Cowan, they will relish it.
Hogg said: “We have a handful of boys who played last year and two or three who beat them the previous year as well. It’s Scotland against England, isn’t it? You don’t have to get boys up for this.”
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE