Mark Dodson’s ambitious plan to lift Webb Ellis Cup is no joke for confident full-back, who insists the players share SRU’s goal, writes Duncan Smith
SCOTLAND full-back Stuart Hogg is very much a glass half-full kind of guy and has no problem at all with the famous, or infamous depending on your view, target to win this year’s World Cup in England.
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson set out the bold goal in his four-year plan of 2012 and stood by it at the recent AGM, insisting Scotland should take to the field aiming to win every game, and Hogg, just like he does on the pitch, is happy to take the ball and run with it.
“Mark Dodson set the goals very early on. He said he wants to win the World Cup and that’s very much in our focus and our mind-set,” said the 23-year-old from Hawick.
“We’re not going there to make up the numbers and we know we have a tough pool to try and qualify from. Every game will be a massive challenge for us but the boys are excited by it, we’re relishing what’s ahead of us.
“Our goal is to win the World Cup. Mark has set a challenge for us.
“Listen, you’re not going to a World Cup thinking it’ll be fine just to get out of the pool stages, like everyone else we’re going there to win.”
Hogg is quick to clarify that everything must be taken in a game-by-game context, starting with this afternoon’s Test against Italy at BT Murrayfield, in which he is one of a number of big names getting their first hit-out of the summer ahead of Tuesday’s announcement of the final 31-man squad.
“There is a long way to go and it has to be game by game,” said Hogg.
“All of that is on the back-burner but that’s the target. If we can get to the knockout stages we’ll take it from there. But we can’t look past of the first pool game with Japan, if we look ahead of ourselves we’ll slip up.”
Hogg, who toured with the Lions in 2013, is sure to be one of the first names on the list head coach Vern Cotter will deliver to the World Cup organisers on Monday, ahead of the big reveal on Tuesday afternoon.
However, that is not a line of thought Hogg is willing to pursue until it is confirmed in ink.
“My focus is purely on this game against Italy,” he insisted. “If you go into it thinking, ‘my place is safe’, then you’ve got completely the wrong mindset.
“For me it’s about doing my job, getting the ball in hand as much as I possibly can and doing my bit for the team. You can’t go out there thinking about the World Cup and that my place is safe, that’s wrong.
“If you also hold back because you don’t want to get injured, that’s when you will get injured.
“It’s another international game I’m fortunate enough to be involved in and that’s all I’m looking at.”
Hogg has shaken off a couple of minor niggles and is desperate for his first taste of action since the end of the season.
Hogg said: “It has been a long pre-season but I am delighted to be back. It has been tough but enjoyable.
“It is the first time I have had a full pre-season under my belt and am feeling the benefits of it. We had two weeks’ holiday and then back in. The boys have been working incredibly hard and pushing ourselves to the limits at some stages.
“You have seen in the first couple of games we have been reaping the benefits of this. We are looking sharp. The boys who are back this week have had an extra couple of weeks pre-season and we are ready to go.
“I am not sure what the plans were for me to be playing. I had a little bit of back, hammy and knee problems but nothing too serious. It is great to have overcome that and be back in the mix.”
Appearing at a World Cup remains on Hogg’s to-do list as he burst on the scene with Glasgow around the time of the 2011 tournament. Performing on the game’s biggest stage in England next month would complete the four-year cycle of his stellar rise.
Hogg said: “It’s always an honour to wear the thistle, and to wear the thistle at the World Cup would be the ultimate.
“The boys who’ve been there and done it say it’s an unbelievable experience. But hearing about it is one thing, I want to experience it for myself. Hopefully I can do as much as I can to put my name forward.
“I have never been involved in the World Cup and it is a dream to play at the highest level. To go to the World Cup would mean everything to me as it does to every other member of the squad.
“This is the time when I made my breakthrough four years ago. The World Cup allowed me to get some game time for Glasgow. If I am fortunate when I go to the World Cup I am hoping nobody is going to take my place when I go back.”
Scotland assistant coach Nathan Hines sang the praises of Hogg after yesterday’s Captain’s Run at BT Murrayfield. “He gives me a bit too much cheek though,” joked the former lock, who was brought in by Cotter after the Six Nations whitewash.
“No, he’s a great player who plays with a lot of passion and heart and he’s a real competitor and I like that about him.
“That’s what we need more of, guys who don’t like being beaten and play with that passion and attitude.
“I like Hoggy and I’ve got a lot of time for him. He’ll help shape the team down the road.”
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Hogg, with a red card for an ugly challenge against Wales in Cardiff during the 2014 Six Nations Championship blotting his copybook and that was closely followed by his dropping by Glasgow during the Pro12 final run-in that year amid stories linking him with a move to Ulster.
“I’m more mature on the park, off the field not so much,” was the smiling self-assessment by Hogg, who will win his 33rd cap today.
“That’s just me, I like to keep boys on their toes. When I’m on the training pitch and on the park I’m switched on.”
He has come a long way from the raw talent of four years ago, but, now with a Guinness Pro12 winner’s medal in his possession and a World Cup to hopefully savour, feels he is still at the beginning of a career he hopes will continue on an upward trajectory.
“I’m at a level now where I can always improve,” said Hogg.
“You are never the complete player hence the reason you train and work hard every day.
“You want to be the best you can possibly be and I’m no different. I’ve got the coaches at Glasgow and here with Scotland that can help me along the way.
“I’ve got no excuses – I have to be improving on my individual performances. I will continue to work hard that’s for sure.”