STUART Hogg says Scotland will be ready to “rock and roll” by the time they play their first match in this year’s Rugby World Cup, against Japan at Kingsholm in Gloucester on 21 September.
The national team may be coming off the back of a shocking RBS Six Nations whitewash, but the precocious full-back insists that self-belief in the squad remains high, and that head coach Vern Cotter is making all the adjustments necessary to ensure that the players achieve their full potential when rugby’s showcase tournament kicks off in just less than three months’ time.
“We started really well in the Six Nations with a couple of cracking performances, but towards the end it just sort of tapered off – so the main thing is that we learn from that and continue to improve individually and collectively,” said Hogg.
“It’s not completely out the system because we’ve still got to learn from what happened there. We shouldn’t have been in a position against Wales where we were relying on the very last play of the game to win the match – we should have had them dead and buried well earlier than that. So, it’s frustrating that that happened, but we’ll continue to learn and we’ll continue to work hard for each other.
“The belief will always be there because we’ve got a great group of boys who will continue to work hard. We just need to have a few good warm-up games to make sure that when we move on to play Japan we are ready to rock and roll. That’s our goal – we’ve not looked any further than the first game,” he added.
Hogg also pointed out that while Scotland may have failed to set the heather alight during the Six Nations, a significant contrast to recent World Cup campaigns is that this squad is packed full of players who have tasted real success at club level this season.
In 2011, only ten members of the 30-man squad which flew out to New Zealand had played for clubs which had finished in the top half of their respective league the previous season. Of that number, only Kelly Brown [Saracens] and Nathan Hines [Leinster] had tasted any tangible success during that campaign, winning the English Premiership and the Heineken Cup respectively.
In 2007, it was even less, with just seven squad members playing for clubs which had finished in the top half of their league, Nikki Walker was part of the Ospreys side which finished top of the Celtic League, and Jim Hamilton was involved intermittently with the Leicester Tigers outfit which lifted the English Premiership [although he didn’t play in the Grand Final victory over Rory Lawson’s Gloucester].
This time round, Hogg is one of 22 Glasgow Warriors players selected in the 46-man training squad off the back of their march to Guinness Pro12 glory last season – and it doesn’t stop there.
“It’s not just the Glasgow boys – there was a couple of boys played for Saracens [who defeated Bath 28-16 to lift the English Aviva Premiership trophy last season] and Edinburgh got to the European Challenge Cup Final as well, so the fact that the boys are winning trophies or putting themselves in a great position to win trophies is great for us. You need that sort of experience,” reasoned the full-back.
Scotland will have four hit-outs before the tournament starts, against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on 15 August, followed by a double-header against Italy in Rome on the 22nd then at Murrayfield on 29 August, and finally against France in Paris on 5 September.
Hogg has promised that while there is no silverware up for grabs in these matches, the reward of making the final cut for the World Cup squad will ensure that every game is packed with intensity and intrigue.
“We’re all in a good position to get in the 31-man squad so we’re all working really hard in training and driving each other on, because we know that nobody has a guaranteed position. So it’s all about continuing to get better day on day in a really tough training environment, and then making sure you perform when you get a chance against Ireland, Italy or France,” he said.
While competition to catch the eye of the coaches is already intense and only going to get more intense as the summer progresses, Hogg insists that the mood amongst the players is overwhelmingly positive with the greater good of a successful campaign for the country overriding any personal concerns about who will or will not make the cut. He added: “The new boys have slotted right in. Nobody is holding any grudges against anybody – we’re all just focussed on pulling everyone together.
“I’ve got a fair bit of experience now, so I try to be a leader as much as I can,” added the 23-year-old, who made his international debut when he was still only 19 years old and now has 31 caps to his name.
“Sometimes it comes across in a good way and sometimes it might not – but that’s just a combination of being frustrated if we are not doing as well as I know we can do and being absolutely knackered in training.
“The boys are young and full of enthusiasm, so they are willing to learn because they want to be in a position where they get to the next level.”