Six Nations: Stuart Hogg relives his Wales chapters in Scotland career and reveals a bucket-list moment for retirement
Wales has been a biennial pilgrimage for Scottish rugby supporters for as long as anyone can remember and Stuart Hogg intends to experience the trip as a fan when he hangs up his boots.
That’s a while away yet and, in the meantime, the national captain has more pressing business to take care of in Cardiff.
Hogg, 29, will today lead a Scotland side looking to win their opening two games in the Five or Six Nations for the first time since 1996.
It’s a poor record but one the bookmakers think will come to an end in the Principality Stadium. Unusually, Scotland are odds on to win in Cardiff, something they have not done since 2002.
It’s a sign, perhaps, of a growing belief in this group of players, something which is mirrored within the camp.
Hogg yesterday reiterated his view that this was the best Scotland squad he has been involved with as he reflected on his record in the fixture.
Trips to Wales have produced some landmark moments in the career of the full-back who will win his 90th Scotland cap this afternoon. He made his Test debut in Cardiff in 2012, was sent off at the Millennium Stadium two years later and led Scotland to a rare win on Welsh soil in 2020 when he finished the game in Llanelli at stand-off after both Finn Russell and Adam Hastings were invalided out.
Hogg has a lot of personal history wrapped up in the game and cites the red card as fundamental to his development. The full-back was sent off for smashing into Wales fly-half Dan Biggar, earning a three-week ban for the offence.
“In 2014 it was just a bit of a brain fart, a huge amount of built-up emotion and executing in the wrong way that led to a red card,” he said.
“I’ve grown up a lot since then. That was a long, long time ago. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. It was horrible at the time, but I’ve said before that that weekend was the making of the man.
“But it’s gone and it’s a completely different challenge now. It’s not about living in the past or the future, it’s about living in the present moment and I’m hugely excited for the challenge of going out there with my team-mates and getting a Scottish win.”
An opening-day victory over England was the perfect way for Scotland to begin this campaign, but the feeling within the squad is that there is much room for improvement.
Gregor Townsend hasn’t shied away from talking up this group of players but pointed to a number of areas in which he felt they should have done better last weekend.
“We didn’t get our set-piece attack going, mainly off lineout in that first half,” said the coach. “We need to show more accuracy there to get in our phases and allow our decision makers to play in the right areas. That’s keeping ball in hand, or kicking the ball behind the defence.
“In the first half we weren’t able to generate those opportunities. We did in the second half and that was great to see because weather conditions were poor.
“From set-piece we did well in terms of winning ball but there’s more to do there in and around our maul, our defence.
“Likewise with our scrum – we didn’t get a lot of opportunity to scrum last weekend with a lot of resets, shenanigans going on. We also think our defence can improve. We were happy with a few aspects of that but we can go up another level this week.”
This is Scotland’s first Six Nations match in Cardiff since 2018 when Townsend made his bow in the tournament as a head coach. Then, as now, expectations were high but Scotland came a cropper, being completely outplayed in a 34-7 defeat.
Much had been made in the build-up of the fast brand of rugby favoured by Townsend but, as Grant Gilchrist noted earlier this week, Scotland needed to earn the right to play like that.
“That does seem a long time ago,” Townsend reflected. “Back then maybe we were focused a lot on our attack.
“We made errors in attack and Wales showed what a quality side they are. They took huge momentum from our errors but also momentum from the crowd.”
Hogg, Chris Harris, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Stuart McInally, Jonny Gray, Hamish Watson and Gilchrist all remain from that team and Townsend believes they have come on leaps and bounds.
“It’s not just me who’s four years older now it’s the group,” he said. “A lot of players who played that day are playing now. They’ve matured as rugby players and people and we’ve had more experiences, both good and bad, to get us to this point today.
“I firmly believe we’re in a better position to handle the occasion and the challenges that Wales bring than we were back in 2018.”
For Hogg, the match is freighted with extra significance given the number of buses heading to Cardiff from his hometown of Hawick.
“They used to say there are two weekends in the Hawick calendar when you could rob houses – the Common Riding and Wales away! It is very special. Like Hawick and the Borders they love rugby down there,” said the captain.
"It's a weekend where a hell of a lot of Scottish supporters come down to. I know personally from Hawick there's five bus loads and a huge amount of cars coming making their way here.
“I haven't gone down to Cardiff as a fan but it is something that will be on my bucket list as soon as I retire. My brother came down on the Hawick Quins bus yesterday, my parents are driving down at the minute.
“It's a very special weekend and everyone looks forward to it.”
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