From Hawick to 100 Scotland caps: recalling Stuart Hogg's journey to the top of rugby

Stuart Hogg made his Scotland debut in February 2012 against Wales in Cardiff.Stuart Hogg made his Scotland debut in February 2012 against Wales in Cardiff.
Stuart Hogg made his Scotland debut in February 2012 against Wales in Cardiff.
As Stuart Hogg prepares for his 100th match for Scotland, two men involved in his journey to the top pay tribute to him – plus words from the man himself.

When Stuart Hogg left school at 16 there was no obvious pathway into pro rugby until coach Richie Gray offered him a place on his new course at Borders College

“I first came across Stuart at about the age of five. He used to be a Hawick ballboy when I was playing for Gala, so it goes back a long way. I knew Stuart’s father, John Hogg, really well. He was a good referee, and should have been a Test match ref in my opinion. I knew Graham well too, Stuart’s older brother. Graham was linked to the Border Reivers academy which was Scotland’s first when the game turned pro. Jim Telfer got me to set it up, and we always had some good youngsters down here.

“Sadly, they got rid of the Border Reivers and we all lost our jobs and I had to decide what I was going to do next. I took a proposal down to Borders College in Galashiels, explaining I wanted to start an academy of sport and create a full-time rugby academy linked to the college. We called it BASE, the Borders Academy of Sport and Excellence.

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Ritchie Gray spotted Hogg's ability and potential from a young age in the Borders.Ritchie Gray spotted Hogg's ability and potential from a young age in the Borders.
Ritchie Gray spotted Hogg's ability and potential from a young age in the Borders.

“So I’d started this course and John Hogg phoned me and said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with Stuart. He has no idea what he wants to do’. He had just left school and for some reason he hadn’t been picked up in the system. So I said, ‘send him along and I’ll look after him for the year, we’ll get him on a decent strength and conditioning programme and we’ll be training every day’. So he came and we had some good Borders lads on that course and he loved it. He maybe didn’t enjoy the academic side of it as much but he loved the rugby. It was a BTEC course and we were one of the first in Scotland to do it.“Stuart would have been 16. He was still playing for Hawick Wanderers. At that age you can go one way or another but he was always a good lad – a great character with a great sense of humour, and he loved his rugby, loved the town he came from. And maybe he just needed a little bit of discipline, something to focus on, and that was the perfect year for him. And he maybe just needed someone to back him as well, and make a few calls to people to tell them, ‘listen, you better come and have a look at this guy’. We created a gym in the old Borders College garage and we begged, borrowed and stole weights, plates and whatever we could get our hands on. We had Scottish music playing in there and the boys would sing along, and through the summer all the Common Riding songs would be played. It was a great time.

"Many years later, I was coaching South Africa and we played Scotland at St James’ Park in the 2015 World Cup and we were both coming out the tunnel at the same time and I remember saying to Stuart, ‘little did we think when we were at Borders College that I’d end up coaching the Springboks and you’d be playing for Scotland at full-back!’ But really, I always knew. I always thought, ‘this boy’s quality’. He was a good rugby player, you could just tell, and I couldn’t work out why he wasn’t featuring higher up. I always remember that at the end of the season at college we had a kicking competition and I invited Chris Paterson down, who was an ex-team-mate of mine at Gala. We did it at Earlston and I said to Chris, ‘I tell you what, I think this kid can take your position in the Scotland team in three years’ time!’“I remember during the last week of the course I got in touch with Bryan Easson who was still involved with the SRU in the Borders, I think he was the development officer down here. I said, ‘You’ve got to get this kid signed up. If you don’t, someone else is going to take him’. Because even then there were a few agents floating about wanting to know who this kid was that was playing at Hawick. My fear was that he’d vanish out of the district, or out the country.

Richie Gray is an elite skills and contact coach who has worked with Scotland, South Africa and Fiji. He is currently a coach with Toulon

Ed Kalman made his Scotland debut on the same day as Hogg and still has a pic on his phone of the pair of them with their first caps

Ed Kalman made his debut for Scotland in the same game as Hogg - he went on to win one further cap.Ed Kalman made his debut for Scotland in the same game as Hogg - he went on to win one further cap.
Ed Kalman made his debut for Scotland in the same game as Hogg - he went on to win one further cap.

"It was February 2012 and there were three of us who were uncapped and we were all on the bench together to face Wales in the Six Nations in Cardiff – myself, Hoggy and Duncan Weir. Duncan didn’t get on, it was just Stuart and me who won our first caps. I was significantly older than Hoggy and Duncan. I’m ten years older than Stuart. I think I was 29 and he was 19. We both won our first caps that day but were at very different stages of our careers. He was obviously at the start of a very, very long and successful international career. Mine was very enjoyable but it was short-lived and I suppose it was the culmination of lots of hard work over a number of years to get to that level, whereas Stuart was finding his level and about to kick on. I went on and won one more cap, against France the following week, so I have two caps to my name, and he’s won 99 more!

"The three of us were all Glasgow Warriors boys and no-one was particularly surprised when Hoggy was called up by Scotland. Winning your first cap at the Principality Stadium was a wonderful and amazing experience. It’s a rugby ground like no other in the world. Hoggy came on quite early [for Max Evans], if I remember correctly, and he took to the international stage like a duck to water. I remember he made a few line breaks and a good cover tackle as well. I came on later on in the second half, as props traditionally do. We lost the game 27-13 but we gave a pretty good account of ourselves. The following weekend was France at home and Hoggy started and I was again on the bench and came on. We lost and that was my last international adventure but Hoggy went on to a whole lot more.

"I have on my phone a picture of Hoggy and myself with our first caps. I think Lee Jones had won his first cap earlier on in that Six Nations, against England, and when you’re in Cardiff there is a tradition where you're supposed to sing a song after your first cap so Hoggy, Lee and I had to sing at the formal dinner after the game. I can’t remember what Hoggy sang, maybe some kind of Borders song from Hawick, but I sang a song from the Simpsons.

"He had an X-factor, that ability to beat somebody. Scottish rugby does have many of those who can create something out of nothing. He came on the scene at Glasgow during the 2011 Rugby World Cup when lots of players were away with Scotland, so there were opportunities. He was still very young but he clearly had something that you can’t coach, that ability to beat somebody one on one, to do something special. You can tell when somebody’s got that ability and Hoggy definitely had it.

Hogg will win his 100th cap for Scotland against Ireland on Sunday.Hogg will win his 100th cap for Scotland against Ireland on Sunday.
Hogg will win his 100th cap for Scotland against Ireland on Sunday.

"At Glasgow, we had a run of getting to a semi-finals but we always seemed to lose to Leinster. In my last year we lost in the final to Leinster and the year after I retired was the year they went on and won it, beating Munster in the final in Belfast.

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"I’m now a physics teacher at Strathallan and coaching the rugby team and some high profile players have come through. In the first year I was here I coached Matt Fagerson and as the years have progressed the likes of Murphy Walker, Cammy Henderson, Ollie Smith have all come through Strathallan.

Ed Kalman was capped twice by Scotland and is now a physics teacher at Strathallan School in Perthshire

On the brink of his century landmark, Stuart Hogg explains why winning his 53rd cap was so important to him

“As a kid all I wanted to do was to play for Scotland. To be sitting here, 24 hours or whatever it is, ahead of my 100th cap ... I don't know what to make of it. When you get one cap you want two, and then three and so forth. But when I started playing regular rugby all I wanted was 53. And people used to ask me, ‘why the hell do you want 53?’ and it was because that would make me the most-capped Hawick player, overtaking Tony Stanger, Colin Deans and Jim Renwick. These little things start to play on your mind a little bit.

“The game is ever-changing. It took Jim 13 years to get 52 caps. The game is completely different to what it was back then. For me every opportunity you get to represent your country there’s no better feeling. It’s a feeling that I love and I’ll miss when I’m done. And it’s a feeling right now that I’ll never ever take for granted. This jersey and this country means the world to me. And I’ll do everything I can to make sure I represent it in the best way.

“I think this is my 12th attempt at the Six Nations, and only the first time I have been in a position to win a Triple Crown. It just shows how far we have come as a squad and as a team and we are moving towards something special. Sunday is going to be a hell of a challenge for us but one we are ready for and excited about. We have prepped well for it.

"The three previous Scotland male centurions, Chris Paterson, Ross Ford and Sean Lamont, came in to present me with my jersey. It was a lovely surprise and they are three boys who I respect and admire massively. Sean spoke incredibly well, Mossy spoke at the end too and you could hear the emotion that they had in their voices. To steal Brad Mooar’s quote from the other night, I would cry at a TV advert! It was really quite special and meant a huge deal but I know I have a job to do and that’s my sole focus.

"Ireland are number one in the world for a reason, they’re absolutely incredible. You look at the players they’ve brought back in, Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw sitting on the bench, these guys are Test Lions. They’ve got an absolute rugby genius in Johnny Sexton at 10 and one of the best coaches in world rugby in Andy Farrell, who I’ve got a lot of respect for. We want to challenge ourselves against the best, we want to see if we can go toe-to-toe with them. That’s the exciting part for us, nobody’s expecting us to win against the number one side but we truly believe we can. They’re absolute quality and we’re excited to take them on.

"If I can get one kid to pick up a rugby ball then I’ve done my job. But if you look at the players in our squad and the way that we’re playing you can look at all of them and be inspired. That’s what we want. We spoke during Covid and beyond about inspiring and lifting a nation and I truly believe that we’re doing that. But it counts for nothing unless we make it more special game on game. I know I speak on behalf of all the boys when I say that we’re absolutely buzzing to be back here at a packed BT Murrayfield and getting ready to show what we’re all about.