Stuart HOGG today recalled the moment when he felt his latest RBS Six Nations campaign might have been ended almost before it had started.
The 20-year-old full-back, one of the key figures in Scotland’s plans to bring down Italy at Murrayfield this Saturday, emerged as a star of the opening round of fixtures with a try against England following a break-out covering almost the length of the Twickenham pitch.
That score, his second at Test level, contributed to pundits on both sides of the Border inking the one-time Heriot’s player, who was reared in Hawick, straight into the Lions party for this summer’s tour of Australia.
In the seconds after touching the ball down, however, Hogg’s jubilation turned to anxiety.
“As I was running back to the halfway line for the conversion to get back to my next job, all I could think about was the pain in my leg.
“I didn’t know what it was, but I had felt things building up in my leg as I was running so, in that respect, I was a wee bit fortunate to come away with a try.
“It was a horrible feeling not knowing, but I came off with a few minutes remaining to learn I was suffering from cramp.”
Hogg showed plenty of blistering pace, even if he was inclined to dismiss the dribbling skills he used to control the bouncing ball.
“You could surely see why I chose rugby and not a career in football but at least I got there in the end,” he joked as Scotland players promoted Saturday’s match in St Andrew Square. Scotland went down 18-38, but, according to Hogg, there were positives, including the pace of new winger Sean Maitland.
Hogg is regarded as one of the quickest around, but he insisted: “If it came to a sprint between Sean and me, I wouldn’t have a look-in.
“When I was running upfield I was going flat-out, only to look across and see Sean cruising outside me.”
One such occasion was in the build-up to the try which stunned England and gave Scotland an early lead.
Fielding a wayward clearance, Hogg took off into open space – helped by scrum half Greig Laidlaw. “Credit the wee man for noticing where the gaps were and shouting at me where to attack,” said Hogg. “It is always a great feeling when you find yourself in space, but I made too much of it and didn’t realise Sean was alongside.
“Had I given the pass straightaway he would have had a clear run to the corner.
“As it was, we recycled the ball through a couple of phases and Sean got over at the end of those plays.
“If Sean has tremendous pace it is equally encouraging that, on the other wing, Tim Visser is always somebody I’d rather play with than against.”
Italy head for Murrayfield on the back of a stunning home victory over France, but Hogg is in no doubt what is required to bring the Azzurri back to earth.
“Our work in the tackle area was not good enough although credit has to be given to England for shutting us down.
“It’s a case of working hard on that and one really good ally could be (scrummaging coach) Massimo Cuttita.”
Cuttita is a former Italian international prop who has been part of the Murrayfield backroom team for several years.
“Massimo could have a lot of handy advice about what we will be up against,” said Hogg.