STUART Hogg sat nervously in the airport waiting for the flight to Ireland yesterday, but the Scotland full-back has no worries about facing Munster tonight.
The 20-year-old Borderer has just come off a sobering first autumn Test series and admitted that he did not know how to react when his first international coach, Andy Robinson, told him he was quitting. Tonight, he returns to the scene of his first professional hat-trick, albeit in defeat to the Irish province last season, and is clear on one thing: he needs to get back into action as quickly as possible to help to restore a positive vibe to the Scottish game. But a fear of flying did not help.
“I hate flying and this is the worst bit about the weekend,” he said, waiting for the Warriors’ flight to be called. But it’s good to be with a different camp now and having a new game and different focus to help get over last week. Personally, I was very disappointed when Andy said he was going. A coach can only do so much; it’s the players that make things happen or not and so it was our fault what happened in the last few weeks.
“That was my first involvement in autumn Tests and my first involvement with a coach who resigned and I didn’t know what to say; whether just to keep quiet, or to say something, or just leave it.
“You know that, as players, you’ve cost him his job, so what do you say to him? Sorry?
“I ended up getting a quiet word with him before he left, and just thanked him for what he has done for me, because he has done a huge amount for me and I wanted him to know I appreciated it.”
Hogg is confident that there will not be a hangover among the internationalists and paid tribute to non-international teammates at Glasgow for helping with that, their form in recent games he pointed to as providing a fresh challenge and motivation. He is selected in a Warriors side with a good pack, and a good back row of players that link well with the back line. With Henry Pyrgos and Duncan Weir back together at half-back there should be a renewed conviction that Glasgow sometimes lack, depending on how swiftly Weir can bring himself up to speed after nine weeks out.
But coach Gregor Townsend is striving to uncover a more clinical edge in attack and Peter Horne, at inside centre, and Hogg are arguably two of the most creative attacking youngsters in the Scottish game. With wingers in Sean Lamont and DTH van der Merwe who demand ball, and can finish, they have options that should ask questions of Munster’s defence.
Tonight is as tough a test as any in the RaboDirect this season with Munster similarly possessing threats across the back line, Simon Zebo growing in confidence with fine displays for Ireland, James Downey growing as a player back in Ireland and with Keith Earls offering a blend of power and pace in midfield, with Doug Howlett and Felix Jones eager counter-attackers.
While Hogg’s selection this week at outside centre, where he played well against Munster last season, may have been viewed as a move by Townsend to improve Hogg’s influence in attack, the player revealed that it owed as much to the form of his full-back rival. “He told me that Peter Murchie was playing really well and was holding on to the No 15 jersey with his performances, so this was an opportunity to try me at 13,” Hogg explained.
The return of Scotland players so quickly after the Tonga defeat can go one of two ways one suspects – if they struggle again in the first half tonight, the creeping doubts may cause a problem, but, if they start brightly, the desire to prove that the Tongan debacle was out of character will be manifest in a strong performance.
Hogg has little doubt which way he sees it going and he has no fear about heading into Thomond Park in Limerick, certainly once the plane flight is well behind him.
“I don’t worry about going there at all – they should fear us, to be honest, with the way the boys have been playing in the last few games.
“My hat-trick didn’t matter to me because we didn’t win the game last season and all I want is to win, so, while I’ll take another hat-trick, this game is all about is getting Glasgow and Scottish rugby going forward again. We have a chance as players, at Glasgow and Edinburgh, to start to put things right the only way we can – bringing all the training work together and gelling this weekend and beating Irish teams.”
Hogg has always had a reassuring clarity. There is no point in Scotland players agonising over their autumn Test mistakes and the part they played in Robinson’s downfall, and allowing it to affect their mindset now. The only place for atonement is on the pitch with their clubs over the next few weeks.