WE ARE sitting in Scotstoun stadium in the heart of Glasgow but there is no disguising the accent emerging from the club’s teenage full-back.
Stuart Hogg hails from Hawick and he seems determined to preserve a little bit of the Borders even as he flourishes in the big city. You can take the boy out of Hawick…
His father John donned the famous green jersey at the age of 17. His brother Graham made his debut on his 17th birthday but Stuart is justifiably proud of the fact that he trumps the pair of them by having first playing for Hawick when he was just 16 years old (just don’t ask if sevens really counts).
The brothers are obviously close and Stuart, now 19, goes home on a regular basis to catch up with friends and family. Evidently, dad adopts a Glaswegian accent when phoning his son, or at least a Borderer’s best efforts at the dialect, to remind Hogg of his roots. As if he’d forget. This is a player who travelled south twice a week last season to help keep Hawick in Premier 1.
“Last season I made the commute from Glasgow to play for my home club, which was great. I got good game time in Premier 1, it was a good experience for me. Obviously, being a Hawick boy, that’s all you want to do, wear the green jersey of Hawick.
“I watched Hawick this season play really well against Melrose but they gifted Melrose their four tries, and I also watched them play Currie which wasn’t so good because the boys leaked 62 points that day. I go home as much as I can to see the family and to watch my brother play because he watches me play.”
Hogg may be some distance from his home and comfort zone but he is revelling in urban life after starting every one of Glasgow’s matches this season, at least until yesterday when Peter Murchie, newly returned from injury, was given the nod at full-back for the match against Aironi. Warriors coach Sean Lineen is impressed by the range of skills his young full-back displays. Hogg allies pace to his handling and kicking, attributes he picked up while playing at stand-off throughout his schoolboy career. He even offers to slip back into the No.10 role if need be, although that water is probably muddied enough already.
Extra work on defence with Gary Mercer and additional gym sessions to add some muscle to his 13-stone frame have propelled Hogg into Glasgow’s starting XV although he modestly insists that luck has played its part in his success this season.
He said: “Throughout pre-season I worked really, really hard on trying to get into the starting XV. The World Cup probably came at the best time for me and a few of the boys in key positions were leaving so I thought I had a chance of getting in the team. It was just a matter of working hard and I was lucky enough to get the first game of the season.
“From a selfish view Murchie [he always refers to his friend and rival as Murchie] got injured at the perfect time for me, although just because Murchie was out didn’t mean that my name was automatically at No.15 every week. There are other boys who can play there. I was just happy to get a run of games under my belt.”
That didn’t look likely two seasons ago when Hogg missed the majority of the season with a knee problem that is usually associated with a growth spurt. Osgood Schlatter syndrome can be seriously debilitating but Hogg recovered in a matter of months to take his place in the Scotland under-18 squad at the end of the season. He graduated to the under-20 squad last year and finished the season with two league starts for Glasgow which exposed an urgent need to tighten up his defence.
If the recent World Cup taught us anything it was that the game may be moving on from its obsession with size, at least where the backline is concerned. The two teams which traditionally field the biggest three-quarters in world rugby, England and South Africa, were both knocked out at the quarter-final stage. The likes of Leigh Halfpenny, James O’Connor and Cory Jane proved that you don’t need a Charles Atlas physique to take on the world and the slight but skilful figure of Hogg may be emerging at an opportune moment, especially with another Borderer, Chris Paterson, nearing the end of his long innings.
Hogg is not guaranteed a place when Bath arrive at Firhill next Sunday but he has a fighting chance of starting, which is probably the same as Glasgow have of beating the West Country club. The sides have met four times in the Heineken Cup and Glasgow have yet to record a victory. So is there any reason to suppose that this year may be different? “Hopefully it will be,” says a naturally-cautious Hogg. “As the season is going on, we’re maturing as a team, understanding each other’s roles and responsibilities and really gelling.
“Hopefully it continues. We want to do well in all competitions and a win against Bath would stand us in good stead.”
Glasgow recently ended Leinster’s 28-match unbeaten run in Dublin when Hogg supplied the scoring pass to Peter Horne for the winning try. After losing three of their opening four matches, the Warriors have won three on the bounce. Three years ago another young “import” made his name in the Heineken Cup against Bath and Aberdeen’s Ruaridh Jackson hasn’t looked back. Hogg is well aware of the rewards if he can prove himself in Europe, starting with the same opposition.
Winners twice in the last four years, they will fancy their chances again. Nathan Hines has taken himself off to Clermont and the Gordon D’Arcy/Brian O’Driscoll midfield may be past its best but they have plenty of experience and quality and, in Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien, two of the best game breakers around. Will have a big influence on this pool but may need a bit of rebuilding before they can go all the way again.
World Cup winner Stephen Donald bolsters their ranks, although some question his pedigree as fourth-choice stand-off in New Zealand. Sir Ian McGeechan has won the cup before with Wasps but Bath have flattered to deceive in recent years. Lock Dave Atwood is a good acquisition from Gloucester and Springbok Francois Louw takes the place of the departed Luke Watson in the back row.
The coach many would like to see lead the national team, Fabien Galthie, took his unfancied side to the league final last year where they lost by a score to Toulouse. The team has an Argentine flavour (Galthie was on their backroom staff), including winger Lucas Amorosino who scored the decider against Scotland at the World Cup. Francois Trinh-Duc and Fulgence Ouedraogo are also quality but few teams make an impact on their Heineken debut.
Top dog: Leinster
Roadkill: Any of the other three