Masculinity is a must to succeed in international rugby, but being a father means as much to the Scottish rugby player
Scottish rugby superstar Stuart Hogg is a tattooed tank of solid muscle and as fit as a butcher’s dog. Famed for his pace and strength, you couldn’t find a better poster boy for a stereotypical view of modern masculinity. He’s world class, at the top of his game with 67 caps for his country, a two-time British and Irish Lion and twice Six Nations Player of the Championship. But there’s also a softer side to this alpha male, and back home in Hawick, as he talks about his children, losing his best friend and his pride in his home town, he’s not afraid to let his emotions show. It’s easy to see why he’s a face of Dove Men+Care, the skincare brand’s global initiative to promote men as non-violent fathers and caregivers, celebrating a definition of strength with care at its core.
“Whatever you see on the pitch, everybody’s got a soft heart,” says Hogg. “And if not, you’re doing something wrong.”
Known as a bag-of-tricks player who can create tries and passes from nowhere, Hogg has a magic that saw JK Rowling bestowing wizard status on him in a Tweet. With the skills of a stand-off when required, the 26-year-old fullback is best in the back three and, with Finn Russell, is one of the talismans of the Scottish side. Hogg has just come to the end of a nine-year stint at Glasgow Warriors and is bound for Exeter Chiefs this summer. In the meantime he’s having a few weeks’ well-earned break at home, swapping hitch-kicks for kickback.
With pre-season training, games for his country against France and Georgia and the Rugby World Cup in Japan ahead, he has his hands full on the pitch. And off too, because the fullback is a big family man and this Father’s Day Archie, three and a half, Olivia, two, and six-month-old George will be keeping him on the run. Never mind Leinster in the Guinness PRO14 final or the auld enemy at Twickenham, the mini Hogg squad have every bit as much bounce as one of their dad’s drop kicks.
“The big thing is routine and preparation,” he says.
Ah yes, that’s key with children. Oh wait, he’s talking about rugby.
“Yeah, as soon as you get that spot-on in terms of training and schedules, you’re half-way to success and the big thing is getting a routine that includes the kids too. They balance off each other really well and it works for both.
“The only thing I maybe struggle with is on match days when I’m trying to concentrate on the game ahead and there’s a job with the kids to do. But we’ve been working on that,” he says. “We’re not going to get everything perfect, and things are not always going to run smoothly,” he laughs. “But as long as the kids are happy and I’m performing, that’s all I can ask for.”
“We” is Hogg and his wife Gillian, also a Hawick native. The pair have been married for three years, and together for seven, after Hogg persuaded the daughter of family friends to date him.
“We eventually got together,” he says. “After a few months of chasing her, she eventually caved in, thankfully, and we’ve been together ever since.”
Chasing her? She must be fast if she can out-run Hogg?
He laughs. “It was more just not replying to my messages!”
But persistence is another Hogg quality, as is resilience, something he’s shown in coming back after injuries to his shoulder and ankle, not to mention shrugging off concussion in his last match with the Warriors, where he was carried off the pitch with 15 minutes to go.
“That was a bit disappointing when you’re in touching distance of winning, but look, it’s happened now, and I’ve just got to get on with my job.”
Getting on with the job means the move to Exeter this summer, and leaving the town where he grew up, steeped in the rugby tradition.
“It was time for me to move on and challenge myself outwith Scottish rugby and the timing was spot on for Gill and the kids. As a family we’re excited because we’ve always wanted to experience new things and challenge ourselves in different environments. I don’t look too far ahead, but when I come to the end of my career, I want to turn round and say, ‘I’m glad I tried that’ as opposed to, ‘I wish I’d tried that.’ Hawick will always be home for us, and it will be difficult to leave, tough moving further afield. In terms of leaving Scottish rugby, I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity to become a professional and live the life I’m living. And it’s about learning new things to bring back to Scotland and try to improve the national game as well – we’re in a good place now and hopefully we’re going to continue to rise. It’s exciting times for Scotland, and me.”
At this stage in his career and with a young family is it time for Hogg to cash in anyway? “No, If we were interested in the financial side of the game we’d be going to France, but that disnae really excite me,” he says.
Speaking of exciting times for Scotland, with the Rugby World Cup coming up in Japan in September, as one of the team’s poster boys Hogg appears a shoo-in to be in the squad. But he’s not taking his place on the plane for granted.
“There’s a long old pre-season to go through first,” he says, “and a huge amount of competition for places. There’s no bigger tournament in world rugby, so here’s hoping I can get out there and try and achieve something special. We start off with Ireland. We’ve shown we can beat them, so here’s hoping we can perform on the day.”
Hogg is big on the cameraderie of the game, on and off the pitch, and emphasises the importance of bonding to how a team plays. “That’s a big part of rugby culture. You work incredibly hard but you enjoy each other’s company after the game – and enjoy a couple of quiet beers,” he says. And certainly, his focus for Japan is all about the training and games, not the down time.
So he won’t be hogging the mic in the karaoke bars?
He laughs. “Thankfully I’m one of the more experienced boys in the team nowadays and you don’t necessarily have to sing all the time. It’s mainly bullying the younger boys into entertaining us,” he jokes. “But, if ever asked upon to sing, I have a few so I’ll… butcher a song and get booed.”
For Hogg it was always going to be rugby, born into a rugby family and raised in a town famous for rugby – although technically he was born in Melrose at Borders General Hospital – “brought back to Hawick as quick as we possibly could,” he is keen to point out. After a rugby course at Borders College he joined Glasgow and went through their Academy, turning pro at 19.
His dad John played for Hawick, coached and refereed professionally and his brother Graham also played the game. “It was Graham who gave me the ambition to become a rugby player after following him for several years,” he says.
His mother Margaret has always worked in property, and when his dad wasn’t on the rugby pitch, he was working at Johnstons of Elgin as a knitwear technician, the details of which have been lost on Hogg.
“Knitwear technician? I’ve no idea. I worked there too in my first job in the school holidays, packing boxes – that was an eye-opener,” he says and discreetly neglects to say why, adding “and recently I’ve done a clothing line for them, SWH1025, which I really enjoyed.”
It’s through his father that Hogg is distantly related to George Best, something that makes him laugh when it’s raised. “I can never remember the exact relation, but my “dad knows. He always wanted to find out his fa mily history, so he did and we’ve caught up with the Irish family, who are absolutely brilliant.”
Does he ever ponder the Best experience of working as a professional sportsman and coping with life in the spotlight?
“Everybody’s different,” he says. “For me it’s about making sure I stay grounded and provide for my family. Rugby’s a short career and you’ve got to try and make the most of it. It’s about learning other things off the field to make the transition from professional sport because you never know when it’s going to end. I’m really interested in property with my mum, and also the punditry side of the game. I love rugby, I love speaking rugby, and I’d love to still be involved in some way. Hopefully I’ll play until I’m about 33, 34, but you never know when it’s going to end.”
Another clue to Hogg’s caring side can be seen in his signature scoring celebration of forming a “W” with his hands. It’s a tribute to his friend Richard Wilkinson, who was killed when the car in which they were both teenage passengers crashed. “I’ve said all along I’m gonnae take Richard along the journey that I’m living because he could quite easily be in my position and I’ll continue to take him along my career.”
The life-changing experience in 2009 also spurred Hogg to become involved with the Road Safety Scotland campaign to cut the number of deaths on rural roads. “We’re trying to make people aware of what’s on country roads and if it gets the message across and saves lives, we’re doing our job.”
Wilkinson is also represented among the many tattoos with which Hogg’s body is decorated.
“I love them,” he says. “I’ve got one on the arm, the kids’ names down the ribs, my best mate’s initials on my ribs, lots of different bits and pieces. I’m trying to make it a story of my life and what’s happened to me, something I’m proud of and I’ll continue doing it. They’re agony,” he says, man enough to admit it, “but I love ‘em,”
At the top of his game, Hogg can look forward to more career and life highlights to commemorate in ink, and he’s happy to be a role model for the next generation of players. “I think that’s part of being a rugby player. It’s about inspiring the next generation.
“I’ll always remember being a little kid and professional rugby players coming to the club and Kelly Brown and Nikki Walker coming to my school. So when people come and speak to me and want signatures, it could be my 1000th, but it might be that person’s first. And that’s something I remember. If you get too big for your boots, especially in a place like Hawick, you’ll get knocked back down pretty quickly. For me it’s about making sure there are players who want to play for Hawick and Scotland, making sure rugby in the future is in the right place. And I take great pride in doing it because I remember being that kid.”
Speaking of kids it’s time for Hogg to get back to his, but not before sharing a final comment that sums up his ability to combine his personal and professional life.
“The best thing is after the game when they come on the pitch and you get to share those precious moments with them. Those are my favourite times.”
When men care, everyone benefits, and if Hogg’s right and being a good father makes him a better player, it’s a win-win for his family and Scottish rugby.
Happy Father’s Day from Dove Men+Care, and their Scottish Rugby ambassador, Stuart Hogg. For more rugby stories, follow @DovemenUK on Twitter.