STUART Hogg admits he is “anxious and excited” at the prospect of following his mentor Jim Renwick and making his Scotland debut at the age of 19.
And, after scoring a stunning try for the Scotland ‘A’, Hogg insists that the memory of a former team-mate who lost his life in a car crash remained part of his matchday thoughts. Hogg was named yesterday alongside Duncan Weir as an uncapped player in Scotland’s 22 for the second RBS Six Nations match with Wales on Sunday.
The 19-year-old grew up in Hawick and played for both of the town’s youth teams, Hawick PSA and Hawick Wanderers, and it was returning home from a youth sevens tournament in Kelso in April 2009 that he and Richard Wilkinson were involved in the fatal accident.
“I was in the back seat behind the driver and Richard was in the passenger seat, and it was just awful,” he said. “I played centre outside ‘Wilko’ and he was a great player.
“Last week Michael Bradley [Scotland A coach] said to dedicate this to someone you know well, and I dedicate everything to Richard now that he is gone.
“When things are going well or not so well I look up to the sky and say: ‘Help me out Wilko.’ I really miss him, but hopefully come this weekend if I get a bit of game-time I’ll be looking to the sky and saying: ‘Help me out Wilko’, and he will.”
Hogg and Wilkinson were among a talented bunch of young Hawick players, and their success provided a platform for Hogg, who continued his rugby education at the Borders College as part of the innovative Borders Academy of Sporting Excellence (BASE) before joining Glasgow in 2010 on an academy deal.
He only recently signed his first full professional contract, but had already become a mainstay of the Warriors side with fine performances at full-back and centre in this season’s RaboDirect PRO12 and Heineken Cup, and on Friday night revealed his ability to a wider audience by starring in Scotland A’s 35-0 win over England Saxons.
He is young, but that consistent progression has earned him the call, and, having also played stand-off, he replaces the vastly more experienced Graeme Morrison to offer more versatile back-line cover.
Recalling the moment he realised his dream was moving nearer, he added: “When I got the nod for the Scotland squad for the Six Nations last month I had to pinch myself and ask if this was really happening.
“Andy phoned me on the Wednesday night before the selection and told me I was in, but I thought it was one of the boys mucking around. So I had like a minute’s silence and then asked: ‘Is this …’ but then recognised the voice, and I feel as if I’ve been walking around with a smile on my face for the last five weeks.
“When Andy flipped over the chart this week and I saw the subs list for the Wales game I looked away two or three times and back again to see if my name was still there. Thankfully, it was.”
Reflecting on the Netherdale game last week, he acknowledged that the try highlights of the game on Bordersrugby.net and YouTube had become a well-worn sight on his laptop. At a time when the Scotland team cannot buy a try, it is no surprise that it has become an internet hit. “I think there have been 18,000 views and about 12,000 of them are mine!” said Hogg, laughing. “The first thing was just to catch the ball and then everything seemed to open up, and I backed myself, and as you could see after it I was a happy man.
“I have worked hard on my counter-attack and you run at your own players, who will run blocking lines, and Duncy [Weir] and Richie [Vernon] managed to do that, and I got clean through and managed to hand off the scrum-half, go round Ryan Lamb and step Nick Abendanon to get in at the posts.
“It was a great night for the Scotland ‘A’ boys. We went into that game looking for a win, and a win we got, and it was even better to get on the score-sheet.
“But to get the call to the Scotland squad now is amazing. As a kid your dream is to play for Scotland and now that I’ve got the opportunity it’s quite scary. I’m massively excited, anxious and nervous about what lies ahead, but excitement overrides them all.”
Jim Renwick spoke in The Scotsman last weekend about how he felt the Scotland coaches had to be bold and hand Hogg his debut in this championship, which would make him the first Teri to play for Scotland at just 19 since Renwick in 1972. Intriguingly, if he comes off the bench, Hogg could again face George North, who he played against at age-grade level, which puts his debut into context as North is just two months older but already has 17 caps and has scored ten tries. There is a growing belief that Hogg could slip into the Test arena as comfortably, and he paid tribute to the support he receives from the former Scotland and British and Irish Lions centre.
“Jim is a massive help to me. His experience and knowledge of the game of rugby is phenomenal, so I owe a massive thanks to Jim for what he’s done for me, and he will continue to do for me. I remember when he first knew he was going to be my mentor he came to watch my games and scribbled down notes on what I did well and what I did not so well. He gave me a lot to work on and I’ve worked hard on these key aspects of the game and they’re paying off.
“Hopefully, it would be good to get some game-time at the weekend and be the youngest [from Hawick to make his debut] in 40 years.”