ONE thing is for certain, Stuart Hogg will make his first appearance for Glasgow Warriors since 18 January when he lines up at full-back for tonight’s crucial RaboDirect PRO 12 clash against Benetton Treviso at the Stadio Monigo.
However, the longer-term future of one of the hottest properties in Scottish rugby is not so clear after coach Gregor Townsend conceded that discussions have been taking place with the 21-year-old and his representatives for some time now on what will happen after his contract runs out at the end of next season without agreement being reached.
Speculation that Hogg is set to move to Ulster has been rife in recent weeks, with rumours circulating that he was seen at a Belfast hotel with the Irish province’s director of rugby David Humphreys and head coach Mark Anscombe. Townsend said he is hopeful of keeping the 20 times capped Borderer at Scotstoun beyond the end of next season.
“With a player under contract, especially a young guy like Stuart, you don’t wait until the final year to try and fix him up on a new deal. You try and make sure you have something in place. About a year ago we started thinking about that,” said the Warriors coach.
“He has a year left on his contract and we expect him to see that out and we are in talks to extend that deal.”
Hogg has been out of action since being red carded in Scotland’s 51-3 loss to Wales at the Millennium Stadium in March. He was slapped with a three-match ban for that offence, and his comeback was then put on hold by a hamstring complaint.
During his absence, the Warriors have had a run of six straight victories – including back-to-back wins over Irish giants Munster and Ulster – taking them to within touching distance of a first home tie in the end-of-season play-offs.
So, Hogg is bound to feel like he has a lot of lost time to make up for when he returns to match action this evening.
“He is desperate to play. He has shaken off that hamstring injury and he is looking forward to getting back in the side,” agreed Townsend. “He is young and wants to get his hands on the ball like any youngster.
“That is the sort of thing that motivates him the most, so it must have been a very frustrating time for him, with the emotions going through your head when you get a red card, not just through you being suspended but how it has a big outcome on the game. He looked really good in training. He worked really hard at the end of last week, too, and we expect him to play well. Like any player he knows he has to play well to keep in the team. Peter Murchie was one of our best players last week and scored two tries for us.”
Hogg is one of nine faces added to the team for tonight’s match, with Townsend desperate to keep his side fresh and fully focussed for a game against a team he insists should not be underestimated. The changes also suggest that Townsend was not entirely happy with the way his team allowed Edinburgh to rally at the end of last week’s game to come within three points of upsetting the applecart.
“We have a couple of guys coming back from injury and illness but we’re also looking to reward form.
“This is our seventh game without a break so we need to keep people fresh as well. We are going to make sure we get our performance right this weekend and keep that momentum going,” he said.
“For someone like Ruaridh Jackson, to miss out after playing very well against Edinburgh is very tough, but it is great to have that competition for places.
“A few people in the press have pointed out this week that Treviso are second bottom and suggested that this should be relatively straightforward, but we see this game very differently,” he continued. “We have reviewed Treviso’s home form, and in their last two games they have scored 20 points when beating Edinburgh and then over 45 points when beating the Dragons – and the Dragons have beaten us this year so we know that must have been a great performance. And they’ve upped their game when they have played the top teams at home. They beat Munster, they lost to Leinster by just a point and they lost by two points to Ulster – so we know that we will have to play better than we did last week to win over there.”
l Zebre last night moved off the bottom of the Rabo Direct PRO12 after Guglielmo Palazzani’s last-gasp try helped them to a 30-27 victory over Ospreys. The scrum-half drove over the line after the 80 minutes were up as Zebre, who had let slip a 16-6 half-time lead to trail 27-16 at one point, earned back-to-back league wins for the first time this season, having beaten Edinburgh in their last outing.
Glasgow Warriors team to play Benetton Treviso, RaboDirect PRO12, Stadio Monigo, Friday 2 May (kick-off 8pm local time)
15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Mark Bennett
12. Peter Horne
11. Niko Matawalu
10. Finn Russell
9. Henry Pyrgos
1. Gordon Reid
2. Pat MacArthur
3. Geoff Cross
4. Tim Swinson
5. Jonny Gray
6. Rob Harley
7. Tyrone Holmes
8. Josh Strauss (Captain)
16. Fraser Brown
17. Ryan Grant
18. Jon Welsh
19. Leone Nakarawa
20. Chris Fusaro
21. Chris Cusiter
22. Ruaridh Jackson
23. Sean Maitland