Scotland rugby will ‘lift nation’ after Euro failure

STUART Hogg has promised Scotland’s rugby team will put a smile back on the faces of the Tartan Army after watching their football counterparts suffer Euro 2016 anguish.

Vern Cotter's Scotland squad are looking to lift Scottish spirits. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Vern Cotter's Scotland squad are looking to lift Scottish spirits. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Gordon Strachan’s side saw hopes of reaching a first major tournament in 18 years crumble on Thursday night when they were held to a 2-2 draw with Poland at Hampden.

But it is a different story for the nation’s rugby representatives, who can fire themselves into the World Cup quarter-finals if they beat Samoa in Newcastle on Saturday.

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Hogg knows the Scotland support are hurting after their latest qualification nightmare but hopes his team can sooth their pain by marching into the knock-out rounds.

The Glasgow full-back said: “We love our sport in Scotland so it was bitterly disappointing that the football boys couldn’t qualify last night.

“I watched the game and there was a lot of passion involved. Hopefully we can have exactly the same tomorrow and really lift the nation again.

“I room with Sean Lamont so I watched it with him and Greig Laidlaw. We’ve got a cup-of-tea club after dinner so we sat and watched the football and little ‘Greeg’ was going daft at the telly.

“It was disappointing to see them lose but I thought it was a good performance.”

Assistant coach Duncan Hodge also took time out of planning for the team’s final Pool B match to check up on the football side’s bid to reach next summer’s finals in France.

But he insisted Vern Cotter’s troops have learned lessons from the stoppage-time lapse in concentration which ultimately allowed Poland striker Robert Lewandowski to kill off Scotland’s hopes.

“It was massively disappointing for the football team last night,” he said. “It just highlights that little things happen. Things can turn so quickly and we’re aware of that.

“Everything we do on Saturday is going to have an effect on the game. How we react from things like a little mistake is going to be massive for us.”

The football side may be suffering but there is a confidence about Cotter’s men.

The Scots blitzed their way to 10 tries and two opening victories over Japan and the United States as they got their World Cup off to a flying start.

But they were brought back down to earth as South Africa claimed a 34-16 win at St James’ Park last weekend.

Hogg admits Scotland got sucked into going toe-to-toe with the muscle-bound Springboks, but insists they will not make the same mistake against an equally robust Samoan side.

“Last week was a minor blip,” the 23-year-old former British and Irish Lion said. “We tried to take South Africa on at their own game plan and it didn’t really work for us.

“We went away from our game plan and turned it into a strength contest, which played into their hands.

“The good thing is that we learned from that and we will move on. We should have stuck to our original game plan, which was to try and move their big pack around and keep the ball when we were kicking.

“At times that worked but the times it didn’t were the times we were getting smashed behind the gain-line after we strayed from the game plan.

“We’d had two physical matches before that but they were nothing compared to what the Boks were bringing.

“We got a rollicking for straying off the plan. It came from pretty much every coach, but we needed that. We have learned from it and will move on. We know we are better than that.”

Samoa’s hopes of clinching a knock-out slot are already finished after back-to-back losses against the South Africans and Japan.

But Hogg is still wary of what the Pacific Islanders could do to their own ambitions.

He said: “The longer these teams stay in a game the quicker they grow arms and legs. You have to shut them down. Every opportunity we get just keep that scoreboard ticking over.

“We learned a lot from last week and we can’t revert back to type and how Scotland of old used to play. We tried to take teams on physically and it didn’t work for us. We’re going back to the way we want to play and hopefully it’ll get us the win.

“There’s a high expectation in this squad that we will qualify but it comes down to what we do on the pitch. The belief is high and so is the confidence. However, we’ll need a complete performance to win.”