SCOTLAND full-back Stuart Hogg is hopeful that his insight from the British and Irish Lions tour last summer could work in Scotland’s favour this weekend as they seek to finish the RBS Six Nations Championship with a rare win in Wales.
Hogg was one of only three Scottish players initially selected by head coach Warren Gatland for the Lions tour, alongside lock Richie Gray and his Glasgow team-mate, Sean Maitland. Ryan Grant, the Scotland prop, was called up after injuries struck the front row, taking the tally to four, but the low number was a concern for Scotland supporters who believed more players deserved a crack.
However, Gatland stuck with the core of the Welsh squad that had secured last year’s Six Nations title and Hogg believes that, as a result of him following a similar approach to that which he has taken with Wales in recent years, the full-back now has a better understanding of what the Welsh will be aiming to do in Cardiff on Saturday.
“I’ve got a fair idea of how Wales are going to be playing,” he said. “I’ve obviously spent a fair bit of time with them and know how they play as individuals but collectively as well it will be pretty much how we played in the summer so I’ll be having a little input in training this week with little things about what they’re about and bits about individual players. But we have to concentrate on our game as individuals and as a collective and hopefully go down there and shock them.”
Wales coach Gatland will also have a better idea of Hogg’s threat, though the fact that he gave Gray, Maitland and Grant little time on the field suggests he may still be ignorant of their quality. The Scotland team announcement for Cardiff has been put back 24 hours to give the players extra recovery time but Gray is expected to be named in the starting line-up tomorrow. Maitland is still out injured and Grant is struggling with a hip/abdomen injury he suffered against France.
Gatland has urged his players to finish with a strong win and, assessing how tight the championship was, suggested Scotland and Italy were still a distance off the other four. “A good performance against Scotland is paramount for us,” said the Wales coach. “At times we’ve played well and at times we haven’t and that’s disappointing so next week is vital to finish the campaign on a positive.
“It think it’s been tough 18 months for these players in retrospect, a Grand Slam and a Lions tour. I think [England] are a good side but I think the two teams cancelled each other out for long periods. I don’t think there’s a massive amount between these sides. Teams are pretty close in this competition and the top four teams can beat each other on the day if they get their performance right.”
Hogg is convinced that Scotland do have the beating of Wales in Cardiff if they can play as they did in the second half in Rome and with the same kind of forward effort that surfaced against France, minus the penalty count. He shared in the deep disappointment felt by the squad and supporters after the team let a 17-16 lead over France slip through their fingers in the final minutes of Saturday’s match at Murrayfield.
Having won with a last-gasp drop-goal from Duncan Weir in Italy, the feeling in the camp could not be more deflated having fallen on the wrong side of a similar late sucker-punch two weeks on. But, for Hogg, Scotland have nothing to lose in Cardiff but finishing on a high after suffering three defeats in the campaign. “They [France] weren’t in the game in the first half really. We gave them some penalties and in terms of the way we were playing it was just gutting to come away with a defeat. We controlled the game for the majority of it and that’s why it’s so devastating.
“But now we have nothing to lose [against Wales]. We just have to go down there and show what we’re about. We can’t win anything anymore but we can certainly build for the future and this game can send us on our way to where we want to be.”