If Scotland supporters are feeling a flutter of anxiety over the fitness of star player Stuart Hogg as his injury absence lingers on and the Six Nations opener fast approaches, it is nothing compared to the frustration of the man himself.
“He’s been a menace, he was narking at me three weeks ago ‘I’m good to go, I’m good to go’ and I’m going ‘that’s not what the physios say mate’,” said Glasgow Warriors attack coach Jason O’Halloran yesterday.
“I love that attitude, you want guys who are keen to get on the field as quickly as possible and, even watching training, he brings a bit of zest and zeal to others around him, which is crucial.”
Hogg will unleash that zest and zeal in a full contact training session today which should tick the final box for his return to action in Saturday’s European Champions Cup pool match against Exeter Chiefs at Scotstoun.
It would be a boost for Scotland if he could get a good chunk of minutes under his belt before joining up with the national team on Sunday and preparing for that opening match against Wales in Cardiff on 3 February.
National coach Gregor Townsend was relatively relaxed about the prospect of Hogg not playing before the start of the tournament but it is clearly preferable that he gets a decent hit out.
“He ran really well, we are really pleased with that,” said O’Halloran of Hogg’s training session at the indoor Toryglen facility yesterday. “Some keys will be him getting through some contact – we did not do a lot of contact work today so we do a bit of contact work tomorrow and also see how the foot and hip bear up tomorrow after doing a lot of running on a pretty firm surface.
“How he recovers and gets through contact will be key. Unless he turns up really, really stiff tomorrow or bangs his shoulder and gets a bit sore in contact tomorrow I would imagine he will be fit for selection.”
Hogg is not the only player hoping to blow off some cobwebs before embarking on international duty.
“Tommy [Seymour] is a chance [this weekend] for sure,” said O’Halloran. “But we have some guys playing well on the wing; Lee Jones has been outstanding.
“Ryan [Wilson] will be a couple of weeks more, to be fair, but Tommy is definitely a chance. We will have to see how he pulls up from today and put him through some contact work tomorrow. And Alex Dunbar [could be back too] potentially. We are hoping to put out a strong team and play well.”
Glasgow are determined to avoid a six-defeats-from-six whitewash in Pool 4 and, despite being long eliminated, will be looking for a big performance and a big scalp in the form of Exeter to take into the mini break.
“There is always pressure,” said O’Halloran. “There is the pressure of self performance for the coaches because we were not happy with how it went in any area last week [a 55-19 loss at Leinster].
“There is pressure for the players – some need to find form, others to show for, ahead of the Six Nations. Others need to come back from knocks. There is motivation throughout the team to have a quality performance.
“We want to prove that we have learned some lessons from this [Champions Cup] experience. We have been exposed in some areas but we have talked about the learnings we have taken out of that.
“We have managed to change our game to a degree in the Pro14 and in between but we have not really shown true growth in this competition and need to show that against Exeter.
“We need to be strong up front, show that we can defend mauls, can defend pick-and-goes, can show some brutality ourselves and when the time is right play with some width.”
Hooker George Turner, meanwhile, has signed a two-year contract at Glasgow. Turner, who been on loan at Warriors from Edinburgh, has committed until at least May 2020.
The 25-year-old endured years of frustration at Edinburgh but has prospered since getting a chance in the west, making 12 appearances and scoring four tries since the move and earning international recognition in the process.
Turner made his Scotland debut against Samoa in November and was also capped in the All Blacks match. He was included in Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad on Tuesday.
“I’ve enjoyed my time at the club and it’s been good getting a lot of game time this season,” said Turner. “I’ve learned a lot from the coaches and players at the club and I know I’ve got a lot more to learn. Scotstoun is the best place for me to continue my development and I’m looking forward to the next couple of years.”