DIANA NYAD, a 64-year-old American woman, recently swam from Cuba to the USA, eventually making landfall despite exhaustion, dehydration and several million jellyfish.
Her success came at the fifth time of asking and the 110-mile trip took her 53 hours of non-stop swimming.
Why she bothered only she can say but while most of us are only too happy to curl up with a good book it seems that some people just can’t get comfortable on the couch. Former Scotland back row Carl Hogg obviously counts among that number.
He gave up a cushy existence as an Edinburgh assistant coach back in 2006 to take up a high-pressure post at Gloucester. Then, in the summer, having established himself as a respected forwards coach south of the Border, he quit one of the Premiership’s most exciting young squads to become the head coach at the biggest underachievers in the Aviva.
Worcester “Warriors” have finished in the bottom three of England’s premier league in each of the last five years – apart from the one season they spent in the Championship after being relegated.
The dangers are self-evident. Last year Bryan Redpath jumped ship from Gloucester to Sale Sharks without his long-standing collaborator, Hogg, only for the Manchester team to struggle so badly that former All Blacks coach John Mitchell was whistled up to salvage their season. Redpath’s reputation was dented and, while the former Melrose team-mates still speak, you suspect it may be a little less often than before. Hogg is taking a gamble at Worcester, especially when rumours persist that he could have been back in Edinburgh.
“I did have a conversation with Mark Dodson about Edinburgh Rugby,” admits Hogg, who declines to furnish any further detail. “But I felt that this opportunity to become a head coach in the English Premiership was too good to turn down.
“I would love to come back and join Scotland’s national set-up at some point in the future but this post is ideal for me at the current stage of my development as a coach. We are under no illusions, it will be a tough job. Worcester have under-achieved over the years on what should be a competitive budget, while the facilities here are second to none. It’s important to put your hand up and be counted. We have a unique opportunity to shape and mould this club, and that doesn’t fall on your doorstep very often.
“We have to change the entire culture of Worcester rugby but we have seen it happen at other clubs. Harlequins were high flyers but lacked consistency and now they have won the league and, when I was playing, Saracens were big spenders who never achieved anything. We are not looking for quick fixes but, instead, we want to build long-term, sustainable success and, hopefully, in three or four years’ time, we will be able to look back and say with pride: ‘I was involved in building that’.”
Hogg is an intense and focused individual, a diligent student of rugby who is never happier than when dissecting the minutiae of the game with someone equally expert and he has pitched up alongside the right man for that. Dean Ryan, his old boss at Gloucester, Sky pundit and sometime Scotland forwards’ coach, is now director of rugby at Worcester. Shane Howarth is the attack coach and Simon Cross, recently of Edinburgh Accies, Scotland’s under-20 squad and Glasgow, is the new defence guru.
Hogg sees something of himself in Cross, who has left the comfort zone that Scottish rugby offers to test himself in the cut and thrust of England’s Premiership, where relegation looms large and owners’ money and patience are both finite.
At least Worcester’s new head coach has a brains trust he can turn to both inside and outside the club. Hogg is happy to share insights into the game with a small number of coaches from other clubs, including Glasgow’s Gregor Townsend and England boss Stuart Lancaster.
“We go way back,” Hogg explains. “I played alongside Lany [Lancaster, whose mother is Scottish] for Scotland under-21s and for Scotland students, while we started out our coaching career together at Leeds Academy. We keep up a constant dialogue and I find it helps my understanding to debate the game with different people.”
The similarities don’t end there. They are both farmer’s boys from either side of the Border and they both put the same emphasis on getting the culture of the squad spot on.
Hogg needs all the help he can get because, this afternoon, his new club face an unenviable opener at Welford Road, where they take on league champions Leicester. That would be a thankless task at the best of times but Worcester will travel without their Scotland prop Euan Murray, who refuses to play on Sundays for religious reasons, and with a squad that seems a little short on genuine quality in other positions. Only Samoa’s David Lemi and former Welsh breakaway Jon Thomas stand out. There are some hidden gems, including half-backs Jeremy Su’a and Paul Warwick, but not so many that Worcester can afford the slew of injuries to their first-choice XV that is part and parcel of Premiership rugby.
Thomas was brought in as club captain, the only signing that Ryan and Hogg have made, with the others all recruited before the duo arrived. Amongst that number are two Argentines, hooker Agustin Creevy and hungry No.8 Leonardo Senatore who is facing a long ban for biting while turning out recently for the Pumas against the Springboks.
The problems facing a club coach can be difficult to predict. Even if Senatore’s ban, which is currently going through the appeal process, is rescinded, the two South Americans will no sooner return from the Rugby Championship than they will disappear again on Test duty in November, when Argentina play England and Wales. Hogg does not point the finger at anyone in particular but recounts the bare facts of their availability through teeth that are, if not gritted, at least heavily salted. It probably won’t be the last time this season because the Scot may have to endure plenty of rough before he can bestride rugby’s fairways with his new club. It will be at least two years before Hogg can field a team he is happy to call his own and, while he makes all the right noises about being competitive this season, most pundits expect Worcester to be stuck in a relegation dog-fight with Newcastle Falcons, Sale Sharks and possibly even London Irish.
“Over the next 12 months, we need to maximise our playing resources,” argues Hogg. “That starts on Sunday and it won’t be easy with their Lions back on board but why not? We’ll find out where we are and we’re looking forward to it. We need the tactical, the technical and the emotional side of a performance. If we get those right the results will look after themselves.”
Hogg has not been thrown into the deep end: instead, a little like that American swimmer, he’s jumped right in despite the dangers.