Stuart Hogg was not quite his usual self yesterday. He was perfectly helpful and polite when he met the press, but that spark which ignites his character seemed to be missing. The assembled journalists did not have to push hard to identify what was wrong.
“It has been a nightmare if I am honest,” he responded, when asked how tough it had been training full-time for the best part of two months without the release valve of a real, full-blooded game of rugby. “We have been eight weeks together and normally if that was the Six Nations we would have dispersed and gone back to our clubs.
“We have had a load of people coming into camp to speak to us, talking about their experiences. We have had dinners out, we have trips, we have tried to keep it as lively and as fun as we possibly can within reason. Recovery is massive at this time of year. It has been enjoyable but tough.
“We’re ready to fire into the games now. We’re getting bored having no games at the weekends. This week is different. It’s a Test week and a chance to pull on the Scotland jersey and go to France and hopefully get a good win and kick on and hopefully achieve something special at the World Cup.”
Hogg is a natural-born competitor who lives to play the game, and he is clearly desperate to be involved in the first of Scotland’s four World Cup warm-up matches against France in Nice this coming weekend. While head coach Gregor Townsend, pictured, may be tempted to wrap perhaps his most influential player in cotton wool, he will also recognise the importance of getting the full-back battle-hardened and in the right frame of mind.
One thing is for sure. If Hogg does get the nod against France on Saturday, or in any of the three subsequent matches coming up on consecutive weekends – against France at home on 24 August, followed by Georgia away on 31 August and finally Georgia at home on Friday 6 September – then he won’t be taking it easy in order to avoid picking up a badly-timed knock.
“If you think like that you won’t be going to the World Cup,” he states. “You will get injured or not play very well. It is an opportunity to pull on a Scotland jersey and there is no better feeling than winning in that jersey. If I am given the opportunity at the weekend, I will grab it with both hands and express myself and have some fun and do my part to help us win.
“It has been a long time coming and the boys are champing at the bit to get out there. The 23 at the weekend have the chance to get the ball rolling.
“There’s a lot of experience within the squad now and a lot of young boys coming through who are asking the right questions and are willing to learn and improve. We feel we’re in a good place and everyone is working hard towards the same goal of winning this weekend and hopefully we can do that.
“These games are massive,” he continues. “We need to be in a position where we’re playing some nice rugby. We feel confident in the structures and want each individual to have a good amount of game time going into the Ireland game. We’ve been working incredibly hard to get where we want to be, and this week is about putting into practice what we’ve done over the past seven or eight weeks.”
Hogg has forged his reputation as one of world rugby’s most exciting and dangerous attacking players, and that is an area of his game he is constantly working on. However, he knows that defence is also key so there has been a real focus on that in training during this camp.
Defence will win you games and we have been working on structures as we believe we slipped up a few times in pivotal moments in past games,” he says. “We’re not going to win Test matches if we’re scoring two and conceding three, so our defence has to be watertight. We need to be on the money at every opportunity and strong enough to turn defence into attack.
“There’s a lot of new combinations so every day we have to take a step closer to winning games and make sure we’re in a better place than where we started the session. We have made the most of training as every rep counts in Test match rugby.
“Everyone has to be on the money in attack and defence.”