IT HAS not been the easiest season for Stuart Hogg but, one year on from the Lions tour which is surely the pinnacle of his career to date, the Scotland full-back looked something like his old self.
The last time he appeared in a Scotland shirt, the red mist descended and Hogg was shown a red card for a late, dangerous and high tackle on Wales stand-off Dan Biggar. His dismissal left Scotland short-handed for three-quarters of the game and the home side chalked up 51 points and humiliated their guests in the process.
In fairness Hogg did public penance almost immediately with an apology to everyone he had let down, fans and team-mates; his dad John must have had some choice words for him as well.
“If I am honest, what happened in Wales knackered my whole season,” said Hogg after Scotland saw off the Eagles. “Through being banned, [Peter] Murchie has taken his chance and I have struggled to get back in. So from that point of view, to be back on the pitch, to score a try and to be part of a winning Scotland team was great.
“What happened against Wales was a complete brain fart. I won’t be doing that again in a hurry because I let a lot of people down in that game. But I’m trying hard to get them all back on my side now. I am happy just to be back playing.”
The Cardiff red card was followed by a three-match ban and Hogg subsequently lost the Glasgow No 15 shirt to his friend and team-mate Peter Murchie who held on to it throughout Glagsow’s run to the RaboDirect final. Hogg was also rumoured to have been caught talking to Ulster about a move, despite being contracted to Glasgow for one more season, which may have influenced Gregor Townsend’s decision not to select the young Hawick full-back.
Even when he did get a rare chance to impress on the pitch with 40 minutes against Zebre, there was a flash of petulance by Hogg who was clearly unamused when Niko Matawalu beat him to a kick ahead and “stole” his hat-trick try.
The full-back was far from perfect in Houston, he spilled one high ball and he suffered a broken nose in a tackle, but Hogg also scored a scorcher of a try in the second half from 50 yards out and he was obviously pleased to be making headlines for the right reasons once more after the controversy of being dropped for Glasgow’s end-of-season play-off games. “I was delighted to score [against the Eagles],” he said. “I’d been frustrated after dropping that high ball in the first half and I wanted to put that right. I caught the ball and Viss shouted that the space had opened up. Thankfully I got there.
“I felt I was going nowhere, like I was being pulled back with an anchor but I just kept going and I think you saw what it meant to me. It was great to be back playing with the other two. Viss [Tim Visser] on one wing and Sean Maitland on the other.
“I think it’s a pretty strong back three and it was great to be back out there with those guys. They are both great players and we missed that, I felt, in the Six Nations this time around.”
Coach Vern Cotter paid tribute to the back three who grabbed two of Scotland’s three tries on the night and could have had a few more but for some poor handling as Hogg acknowledged.
“It was a great game, I really enjoyed it,” he added. “The boys stuck to the gameplan pretty well and we converted most of our chances.
“We left a few points out there but it’s giving us something to build on. Listen, it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t a classic by any manner of means but we got the win.
“It was also good to play on a good pitch. I was reasonably happy with how I played. I think the whole team played well given the (hot and humid) conditions. Hong Kong last year was just as bad and I hate playing in that.
“You might not believe me but I actually prefer playing in the wind and rain. I’d rather take that at Scotstoun any day!”