SOME players can appear to possess innate confidence and as he prepares to make his first start for Glasgow this season, in the Heineken Cup away to Northampton, Stuart Hogg epitomises such a trait.
Scottish rugby has nurtured a crop of talented youngsters over the past decade, but many have lacked the deep belief to carry them through lean periods and bounce back from tough times on and off the pitch, and still keep improving and threatening opposition. One senses Hogg may be different.
He enjoyed a stunning first season as a pro when he became a fixture as Glasgow full-back while the World Cup was on and then flourished with the internationalists back to the extent that he became one of them, going on to fashion some hope in an otherwise grim RBS Six Nations Championship.
The season finished with a successful summer tour to Australasia and while Hogg picked up an ankle knock in the South Seas that would eventually need surgery and force him to miss the opening six weeks of this season, the 20-year-old has been bouncing about in recent days, talking of the enforced absence as an opportunity.
“It’s part and parcel of rugby,” he said. “You’re going to pick up injuries. It’s just a matter of being professional about it. I took the chance to work on my upper body when my ankle wasn’t right and I have bulked up a bit. I looked at it as an opportunity to work on a weakness.”
He turned the opportunity into an extra stone of weight, which he believes will allow him to cope with the increasing physicality at the top level. The six-footer now weighs just under 15 stones, and was pleased to see that it had not affected his pace by setting new PBs this week for sprints.
Hogg appreciates that few seasons can match such a debut year, but the Hawick youngster reveals a steel to match the confidence as he speaks of a desire now to prove that he can surpass those achievements and not suffer from what is often described as “second season syndrome”, when emerging players are targeted by opponents eager to cut them down to size and the train of improving form slows.
He acknowledged: “Last season was a dream season but I don’t want to be a ‘one-season wonder’. I’ve worked a lot over summer and hopefully this season I can just do the same as I did before.
“It will take a lot of hard work, time and effort to avoid that and there is that little bit of doubt in my mind about whether I’ll be as good as last season. Maybe I will be more marked, but I have worked hard and, hopefully, I’ve added little bits and pieces that will surprise the opposition.
“I feel I’m becoming more relaxed in my rugby now. Last season, I could get quite uptight thinking about whether I would get a starting place, and was kind of burning myself out every now and then. I don’t take anything for granted, but I’m enjoying my rugby more.”
He is coming back into a Warriors side that is steadily building a confidence, having put together four wins in the RaboDirect PRO12 that has helped settle nerves after the change of coaching regime and influx of new players. Tomorrow is the first big test of the season, however, as Northampton bring back a core of experienced internationalists in a bid to launch their Heineken Cup campaign in front of their own fans in style.
The Saints suffered their first Premiership defeat away to London Irish last weekend and coach Jim Mallinder was not a happy man. He has warned his side against under-estimating a Glasgow team that has claimed good wins on the road.
“You don’t win at places like the Arms Park and Liberty Stadium unless you are a good team and Glasgow have shown in the last couple of seasons that they are developing into a dangerous outfit,” he said.
“We know we need to get off to a good start in the Heineken Cup and make the most of starting our campaign at home, but if we are to get the result we want we know that nothing less than a massive step up from last weekend’s game will do.”
Sadly for Glasgow, they go into the game missing a core of talent and experience in Chris Cusiter, Duncan Weir, Jon Welsh, Rob Harley, Graeme Morrison, Rory Lamont, Moray Low and DTH van der Merwe, so they need a good dose of Glaswegian gallus. Hogg may emanate from deepest Hawick, and that is where his rugby intelligence comes from, but he could pass for a “Weegie” now such is the mix of realism he displays in assessing the challenge Glasgow face tomorrow from a ferociously powerful home pack and a league of nations talent in the back line, and the determination pulsing through him to cause problems for the Saints.
“These are massive games for the club,” he added. “Just to be part of it is great. I love playing in big Heineken Cup games and it’s great to be back involved.
“The Premiership is a fantastic league. They have a number of brilliant players, like Richie Gray and Danny Cipriani. The best players in the world play in that league, so Northampton will be a great place to play.
“It will be tough to go down there against the big, forward orientated team, but I’m confident that our pack can take it to them and give us a solid platform. I don’t see why we can’t win, and that’s all I’m looking at.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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