Having been there throughout Stuart Hogg’s Glasgow Warriors journey from precocious teen prospect to one of the biggest names in world rugby, Kenny Murray has a deep understanding of just how much of a threat the full-back will be when he lines up for Exeter Chiefs against his old club in Saturday’s European Heineken Champions Cup clash at Sandy Park – but the defence coach points out that this familiarity can also give a valuable insight into where the weaknesses in his game lie.
“We all know that he is a guy who can have a massive impact on the game – if you allow him time or space, he can rip you apart,” acknowledged Murray. “However, from our point of view, we also know that his defence maybe isn’t quite as strong as his attack, so we’ll be looking to exploit and expose that as best we can.”
Murray admitted that there has been a fair bit of chat within the Warriors camp this week about coming up against an old comrade, but then quickly pointed out that there is much more to the Chiefs than their recent star signing.
“Listen, they are not a one-man team, by any means,” he stressed. “Look at that game at the weekend against La Rochelle. In the middle of the park Henry Slade pulls a lot of strings for them, Nic White at nine is a good player and Sam Simmonds at No 8 is as good a ball-career as you are going to get in the Premiership, so Hoggy is one cog in that wheel.
“For us, it is about trying to exploit the opportunities that we see against them, and as much as Stuart is a good attacking player and we need to deal with that, maybe there are things we can do in attack to pick him off,” he reiterated.
It goes both ways, of course, with Murray acknowledging that Hogg will also be able to give his new team-mates some valuable inside information ahead of Saturday’s game.
“I think that will be excellent for Exeter. At the end of the day, it is a job for Stuart, and now he is in a different role where his responsibility is to help Exeter and win with Exeter. That’s just the way it goes. He’ll know how we attack, how we defend and have ideas himself where there might be opportunities against us. Whether we continue doing some of the stuff he might anticipate is a different matter.”
Both teams go into this Pool 2 match off the back of victories in round one, although it will be the Chiefs who will feel they made the more emphatic statement having dismantled La Rochelle 12-31 at the Stade Marcel Deflandre, while Warriors made heavy weather of their 13-7 home win over Sale Sharks.
“It’s not a bad thing as a coach if you win a European game and you are frustrated, thinking that the team could have done this or that better,” reflected Murray. “So, it is about understanding what we didn’t do well and making sure we change that for this week – particularly our game management because I thought we overplayed the phases at times when we should have been looking to kick accurately.”
Although it won’t be all about kicking. “We try to play a high-tempo game and they are possibly not used to English Premiership teams playing like that against them, so that will be part of our focus,” added Murray. “We have seen opportunities in their defensive alignment that we feel we can expose.
“And, obviously, the key thing is stopping them getting into the areas of the park they want to play from, so discipline is going to be huge. If you go down there and are ill-disciplined then you allow them to get into those attack zones.”