Any club which has finished either first or second in its national league for the last four years could hardly be described as a one-man team, but all Scottish eyes at least will be on a single individual in the Exeter Chiefs line-up when they play host to Glasgow Warriors in the Champions Cup this afternoon.
Stuart Hogg was a talismanic, game-changing player for Glasgow during most of his decade with the side, which included winning the Pro12 title back in 2014. His summer departure had been expected for some time, but it will still be a shock for Warriors supporters to see their former favourite in another team’s colours. Those supporters can only hope that what Hogg does on the ball will not come as a shock to his erstwhile team-mates who, after both sides won their opening games last weekend, can go clear in Pool 2 with a win at Sandy Park.
“Stuart’s settled in fantastically well,” Chiefs coach Rob Baxter said of a signing designed to transform the West Country club from contenders into winners of silverware both domestically and in Europe. And those words will remind Dave Rennie just how dangerous the new Exeter full-back is likely to be today.
“He’s a good man,” Rennie said of Hogg after naming a team which showed only one change from the line-up that started last week’s 13-7 home win against Sale Sharks – Chris Fusaro coming in at openside for the injured Callum Gibbins. “We love him. It’s ironic that we end up in the same pool. We know a lot about him and we know we’ll have to be pretty sharp to nullify him.
“We’re going to have to do a good job on Hoggy and limit his opportunities. He’s got a really good skill set – his ability to distribute and kick well, and create opportunities for others.”
Glasgow were unconvincing at times against Sale, but given the standard of the opposition it was arguably their best outing of the season to date. Yet Rennie knows another step up in performance will be needed if they are to get the better of opponents who enjoyed a 31-12 bonus-point win at La Rochelle in round one.
“They’re another level up in regards to set piece, so we’ll have to be really good there,” the coach said. “They’re pretty good at building pressure and hanging on to ball for long periods. They’ll ask questions of our defence. They’ve got a number of guys who can kick well and kick long, so we’re going to have to win kicking battles. We know if we can hang on to the ball we can ask questions of their defence. They are very good at filling the field and we’re going to have to shake that defence.”
Today’s game will be Glasgow’s first since it was confirmed that Rennie will leave Scotstoun at the end of the season to become head coach of Australia. The one unanswered question about the move is whether Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor, the former Glasgow assistant who is himself Australian, will join him. Asked about the matter yesterday, New Zealander Rennie suggested that having at least one Australian on the back-room staff was essential.
“We’ve talked about support staff – a number of them come to the end of their contracts along with Michael Cheika. There’s been a full review going on and Scott Johnson” – the Wallabies director of rugby who previously held the same post at the SRU – “has been over there, so I’ve been quizzing him about who is worth keeping and extending and what changes we need to make. It’s important we have a strong Australian flavour in there.”