He may be Glasgow Warriors’ undisputed star man but Stuart Hogg has been notable by his absence in club colours over the past two seasons.
As his time at Scotstoun nears an end – he will move to Exeter Chiefs in the summer – the Scotland full-back is desperate to pull on the Warriors jersey as much as possible and finish his nine-year spell with a best-ever performance in Europe.
The 26-year-old is poised for his first taste of Heineken Champions Cup action this season at Lyon on Saturday, which will be only his third club game of the 2018-19 campaign after featuring against Connacht and Munster before suffering an ankle injury.
He returned ahead of schedule to play three of the four autumn Tests, making it ten Scotland appearances this year, a good deal more than he has managed for Glasgow in the past couple of seasons.
“I am just looking forward to playing for Glasgow. It has been a frustrating old year and a half and I think I have only played nine games since [coach] Dave [Rennie] came in,” said Hogg. “I want to show Dave what I am all about and really put my stamp on the Glasgow jersey. It has been a frustrating old time but I’m excited to be back and I’m ready to rock and roll.”
Rennie is fully aware that he hasn’t had his full money’s worth from his stellar asset since taking the reins last summer, which saw Hogg return injured from the Lions tour.
“I tease him a lot,” said the Kiwi. “He’s played two games this year and he played about six or seven last year, so he’s on about a million dollars a game at the moment!”
Even going by the New Zealand dollar exchange rate that was clearly a humorous exaggeration but Rennie is serious about making the most of Hogg while he still can, starting with this Lyon double header in Pool 3 of the Heineken Champions Cup, where Glasgow currently sit second behind frontrunners Saracens.
“He’s a fantastic player,” said Rennie. “He is really passionate about playing for this club and we’re keen to get him out there as often as we can.
“To his credit, he’s come out of injury and straight back into international footy and played really well. Obviously, we hope to give him a bit of ball, but even his ability to kick and give you field position is massive. He’s a pretty special player.”
Rennie believes the announcement that Hogg will be heading to England at the end of the season is a positive rather than signalling a winding down the clock phase.
“I think it’s often easier when guys make up their minds early,” said the coach. “They stop stressing about what next year looks like and they can just focus on doing a good job now.
“He has been here a lot of years and he’s got a lot of good mates here. He’s desperate to go out on a high note and contribute to that. We are more than comfortable; it’s not the situation that because he’s leaving we’re starting to promote other guys to look for the future. We have a world-class player in Hoggy and we are keen to use him.”
That is something the man himself is more than happy about and he admitted that breaking through in Europe would be a perfect parting shot.
“But it’s not just about me and personal accolades. It’s about the team getting to the best possible stage we can. I just want to play my part in it and the boys are in a good place,” said the Hawick man.
“We have qualified once [for the quarter-finals] in the past [losing to Saracens in 2016-17] but we are very much a work in progress and it’s going to be tough. Europe does not come easy and we are fully aware of that. It all depends how we go this weekend.
“We are dying to qualify from the pool but we have to beat Lyon to help make that happen.”
Lyon are pointless at the bottom of the pool but Hogg is expecting them to come out firing on Saturday and knows that away games in France are never to be taken lightly.
“They are a big physical pack with some cracking players out wide,” he said. “Defensively we have to get in their faces and put them down at the quickest opportunity. We have to make the most of our attacks and we finish off the majority of our line breaks.
“I’m looking forward to Saturday and to help the boys to victory. They will work hard but if we take all our opportunities they will switch off and lie down a little bit.
“Here is hoping we can make the most of our attack shape and get stuck into them in defence and come away with an important win. If we stand back and admire them it will be a long day for us.
“They are full of top-class individuals. Nothing will be given to us cheaply. We will have to work for every single point and we are aware of the challenges ahead.
“Everybody is fully aware of how Glasgow Warriors play our rugby and we are far from the finished article but we work incredibly hard every single week.
“We can’t look too far ahead. It is Lyon on Saturday afternoon and the right result across there gives us every opportunity to back it up the following week.”