Scotland v Ireland: Stuart Hogg on why he’d rather listen to Paul O’Connell than Eddie O’Sullivan

Eddie O’Sullivan is widely regarded as a controversialist whose strongly held opinions make him ideal pundit material.

The former Ireland coach was on particularly acerbic form last December when dissecting Stuart Hogg’s post-match interview after Scotland’s defeat in Dublin.

Reflecting on his side’s Autumn Nations Cup campaign as a whole, the Scotland captain said he was “pretty pleased with everything that we’ve done”.

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“We’re on the right track to achieving something special, but along the way we’ve got a lot to learn,” said Hogg.

Stuart Hogg, left, will deputise at stand-off for Finn Russell should anything untoward happen to the Scotland fly-half against Ireland. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

This was seized upon by O’Sullivan who branded Scotland delusional.

“We’ve seen all this before,” O’Sullivan said on RTE. “They always talk themselves up, they always talk a great game. They have some deluded notion that they are actually better than they are.

“I’m not being harsh. These guys haven’t won here in ten years…”

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since as the two sides prepare to lock horns once more at BT Murrayfield on Sunday.

Stuart Hogg has called for Scotland to be more clinical against Ireland. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

Scotland’s highly impressive victory over England last month suggests Hogg was right in saying they were on the brink of “something special”. Scottish wins at Twickenham are as rare as hens’ teeth and although they followed it up with a home defeat by Wales there was enough in the performance to suggest Gregor Townsend’s side remain serious contenders in this season’s Guinness Six Nations.

Ireland, under the charge of Andy Farrell, lost their opening two games to Wales and France before defeating Italy in Rome a fortnight ago.

Hogg is not the type to be drawn into a war of words with O’Sullivan and preferred to dwell instead on the praise offered to Scotland last week by Irish luminaries Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll.

O’Connell, now Ireland’s forwards coach, said the current side was “the best Scottish team I’ve ever gone up against, as a coach or a player”.

Former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan branded Scotland delusional.

Flattering yes, but is it just mind games from the old warhorse and would Scotland be better off ignoring both O’Sullivan and O’Connell?

“I think everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” said the Scotland captain. “It seemed that mine wasn’t very valued, but the pleasing thing from a Scottish point of view is you’ve got some absolute legends of the game backing us up about how we’re playing - Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll.

“And to have players of that calibre commend us on the way that we’re playing and get excited about watching us, that’s a huge pat on the back. And it’s those kind of comments that we’ll enjoy.

“But, as I said, everybody’s entitled to their opinion. I had mine, Eddie had his, they probably didn’t match up, but look, what’s done is done. We just need to go out there tomorrow and show what we’re really about.

Stuart Hogg during the Scotland captain's run at BT Murrayfield. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

“It’s fine well these guys saying these lovely comments about us, but it’s another thing being able to back it up.

“I truly believe that on Sunday we can win the Test match. To do that, we’re going to have to be at our best for large periods of the game and stay in every single moment.

“There have been a few lapses in concentration over the last few games that have let us down. But I feel we’re better for those experiences.”

The win over England means Ireland are the only Six Nations team that Townsend has not beaten as coach and they remain a thorn in Scotland’s side. Nine defeats in the last ten meetings between the countries tells its own story and Hogg believes his team need to improve their finishing if they are to record their first win over the Irish since 2017.

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“We know fine well we can beat any team on any given day, but for us to do that it needs a complete 80-minute performance, to have that clinical edge in attack that Gregor has talked about, and making sure we’re converting opportunities,” said the skipper.

“Between the England and Wales games, we left four or five tries out there. It’s exciting for us to know we can create opportunities, but it’s a frustration and a disappointment that we’ve not really had that clinical edge in our game.

“If we get these things right, take our opportunities, we’ll grow in confidence and you’ll see a true Scottish performance.”

With no stand-off on the bench, Hogg is the designated back-up 10 should anything untoward happen to Finn Russell. The Hawick man has high-profile experience of the fly-half role and played there as recently as last month when Russell was sin-binned against England and in the autumn when Russell and Adam Hastings were both injured in the win over Wales in Llanelli. He also turned in a try-scoring performance at No.10 for the British & Irish Lions in their thumping win over a Combined Country XV during the 2013 tour of Australia.

He said he would be comfortable returning to his schoolboy position in extremis but warned not to expect fireworks.

“I’d love to say I’ve stood and watched Finn Russell to see how you play ten, but there’s nobody in the world who can implement what he does,” Hogg said.

“I’ve tried to watch training back, review how he’s been going, but I just can’t do what he does so I’m not even going to try. For us to be in with the best chance of winning, we need Finn Russell on the money, we need the forwards to give him dominance and get him on the front foot, and if I have to step in at ten, I’m more happy to do whatever is best for the team.

“Against Wales in the autumn, I played ten for about 25 minutes, and against England I covered the ten minutes when Finn was in the bin. There were some squeaky bum moments, but I believe in my ability to perform and make sure we’re driving the team around.”

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