Scotland coach Gregor Townsend believes it is the “right time” for Stuart Hogg to lead his nation into a new era after naming the star full-back as his captain for the forthcoming Guinness Six Nations.
The 27-year-old Exeter Chiefs player replaces hooker Stuart McInally as Scotland look to rebuild after a disappointing 2019 Six Nations, in which they finished fifth, and a pool-stage exit at the World Cup in Japan.
Townsend, who has included six uncapped players in his initial 38-man squad, was Hogg’s club coach for a number of years at Glasgow and said of his fellow Borderer: “I think Stuart is at the right time to do it. He’s learned a lot from his own experiences and from others.
“This is the right time for him. Maybe a few years ago it would have been too early. He wants to do it. And he has the experience and knowledge about what needs to be said, when to let others talk.”
With the Test retirements after Japan of Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay, as well as experienced winger Tommy Seymour, Hogg is now the most capped player in the squad with 72.
At the other end of the spectrum, the six uncapped inclusions are Gloucester lock Alex Craig, Glasgow’s Australian wing Ratu Tagive, who is now Scottish qualified, Edinburgh flanker Luke Crosbie, his back-row team-mate Nick Haining, Glasgow loose forward Tom Gordon and Warriors centre/wing Kyle Steyn.
Notable exclusions include the veteran Glasgow pair of back-rower Ryan Wilson and centre/stand-off Pete Horne. Warriors’ No 8 Matt Fagerson has a rib injury, which opens the door for the return of former Edinburgh man Cornell du Preez, now at Worcester, hwo won the last of his six caps in the thumping by Wales at the start of the 2018 Six Nations.
Hogg has captained Scotland once before, against United States in Houston on the 2018 summer tour. That game ended with a shock 30-29 defeat.
Townsend added: “We lost the game, but I don’t think it was anything to do with Stuart’s captaincy. We started well and we lost our way a bit and almost won the game at the end.
“It was a young team, he was captain, and there were a lot of guys on their first caps. He’d been vice captain in a number of games, Stuart McInally was the tour captain but was injured until the Argentina game. The positive thing was that certainly didn’t put him off. He learned a few things about how to speak to players during games when things aren’t going your way, and he wants to put that into practice.
“At times with Glasgow and Scotland, he’s worked with Al Kellock, Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay, he’s seen how things worked for them. And I’m sure he’ll lean on guys like Al and Greig for advice.”
Scotland face a daunting start with a match against Ireland in Dublin where they have won only once in 20 years [at Croke Park ten years ago]. They have never tasted victory at the revamped Lansdowne Road, now the Aviva Stadium.
The 1 February crunch comes just over four months after a comprehensive 27-3 dismantling by the men in green in Yokohama derailed Scotland’s World Cup campaign before it had even got going.
“We’ll see what happens in the Six Nations,” said Townsend, who knows that another poor campaign could lead to the end for him in a job which he took over in 2017, although his contract with the SRU runs to to the end of next season.
He added: “There are going to be challenges for the team and the captain – and there will be more responsibilities. But he [Hogg] is embracing that.”
Townsend has change the squad’s preparations, taking them to a training camp in Spain the week before, then directly to Dublin on the Thursday. He revealed that, following a week’s training at Oriam in Edinburgh, the 38-man squad will be trimmed to “32 or 33” for Spain, then 28 for Dublin before the final 23 is selected.