Rubbishing of Stuart Hogg and Hamish Watson’s Lions credentials is a strange sport

There is a peculiar sport going on at the moment which seems to involve rubbishing the credentials of Scotland’s Lions candidates.

Stuart Hogg playing against Queensland Reds on the Lions' 2013 tour of Australia. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Stuart Hogg playing against Queensland Reds on the Lions' 2013 tour of Australia. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

Last week it was Hamish Watson - too small, apparently. This week it’s Stuart Hogg - defensively flaky, according to Stuart Barnes, the former England fly-half.

Neither claim stands up to much scrutiny. Both Scots enjoyed a successful Six Nations, with Watson a worthy winner of the fans’ poll for player of the tournament.

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He played with aggressive intent throughout, his supposed lack of stature not much of an impediment. Only Ireland’s CJ Stander (72) made more carries than Watson (67) over the course of the campaign.

Hogg, lest we forget, is the first Scotsman to captain the national side to away wins over England and France in the same season since 1926.

He played out of his skin in both of those games and performed throughout the competition with a level of consistency that proves he has added maturity to his breathtaking talent.

His stats are also impressive. Of the home nations players, only team-mate Duhan van der Merwe made more metres than Hogg (472 to 438) and the Scotland full-back also scored well in the tournament’s offloads chart where his tally of seven was bested by just one player, Antoine Dupont of France.

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Stuart Hogg scored two tries in Exeter Chiefs' win over Wasps. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

The strangest thing about Barnes’ criticism was the timing, coming as it did on the back of a performance for Exeter Chiefs against Wasps in which Hogg scored two tries in the English champions’ 43-13 victory.

The second of the scores was one of those ‘worldies’ that sends Twitter ablaze. Picking the ball up deep in his own 22, the Hawick man launched a trademark spiral punt into the Wasps half. With the opposition players slow to react, Hogg ran almost the length of the pitch to get there first, then hacked the ball on before pouncing on it for the try.

It was a snapshot of classic Hogg, showcasing his speed, vision and ingenuity.

Barnes, to his credit, acknowledged the player’s attacking threat while arguing the full-back was suspect under the high ball compared to Wales’ Liam Williams and Ireland’s Hugo Keenan, an oft-repeated assertion but one which was rubbished by Jim Telfer as recently as last month which he picked Hogg in his Lions Test team for The Offside Line.

Hamish Watson was voted Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS

This would be Hogg’s third Lions tour. He was a callow 21-year-old in Australia in 2013 when he earned his stripes in the midweek side. Four years later, he was invalided out before the serious business started, with many having earmarked him as the Test team’s full-back.

Williams had that honour in New Zealand and performed admirably but Hogg can provide the X-factor in a way his rivals for the 15 jersey cannot.

Since the last tour, Hogg has moved to the Premiership and helped Exeter become champions of both England and Europe. He will be 29 by the time the Lions play in South Africa and is in his prime.

Scots have long nursed a grievance over their representation in the Lions but it would be a major shock if Warren Gatland were to name a squad on May 6 without Watson and Hogg. Omitting either would provoke uproar; overlooking both would leave the Lions’ credibility in tatters.

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