Stuart Hogg admits he’s ‘hyper’ as Lions stand on the cusp of a rare series win in South Africa
Stuart Hogg’s biggest task before the second Test is trying to remain calm. The Scotland captain is on the cusp of realising his rugby ambitions as the British and Irish Lions chase the victory over the Springboks that would clinch the series.
A keen student of rugby history, Hogg knows the class of 2021 have the chance to achieve something truly historic.
Test series wins in South Africa are not, as they say, for everyone. In the history of officially sanctioned Lions tours, it has been done only twice before; in 1974, under the auspices of Willie John McBride and Syd Millar, and 23 years later with Martin Johnson and Ian McGeechan at the helm.
That last triumph, in 1997, resonates powerfully with Hogg who grew up watching the Living with Lions documentary and its powerful chronicling of a tour that did much to cement the side’s place in the professional era.
Those who feared the Lions might pass into history as the sport bid farewell to amateurism at the elite level reckoned without the impact made by Jim Telfer, McGeechan and the rest of the ’97 tourists.
Hogg now finds himself on the brink of emulating that side and the full-back says he is “hugely excited” at the prospect.
“One of the best things is that I’m sitting down and talking about it, otherwise I’d be sitting in my room and I don’t know what I’d be up to,” admitted Hogg.
“For me, these are the biggest games I’ve been involved in. I’ve played a lot of times for Scotland and big club games, but to be involved in a Lions Test match series is absolutely incredible, and I’m loving every opportunity that I’m getting.
“But I also understand my role and responsibility and the need to execute on Saturday. That’s the pressure I’m putting on myself to perform. But I’m hugely excited and for me, the character I am, between now and the game is the worst for me because I can get too hyper and have far too many coffees.”
There were no wild celebrations following last week’s 22-17 win in the first Test because the players know the job is only half done and when they return to Cape Town Stadium on Saturday it will be with the intention of making next weekend’s third and final Test an irrelevance.
“I think there was maybe half an hour or 45 minutes after the game last week when we were sitting in the changing room that I could relax and take everything in and it was really quite a special moment,” said Hogg. “But it quickly turns to being involved in the next job and making sure we’re prepped in the best way possible.
“I think there will be times during the off season when I can reflect and look back on what’s happened but right now I’m concentrating on making sure that I do my part to make sure we’re a part of a successful tour.
“We believe we can go out there tomorrow and put in a performance that will win us the Test match and the series. We’re fully aware of the challenges coming our way, they’re a highly motivated and emotional side that will throw the kitchen sink at us.”
Attacking opportunities were in short supply in the first Test where neither side managed to unleash their back three. The Lions were profligate in the first half in terms of the penalties they conceded but the boot was on the other foot in the second period as the tourists turned a 3-12 deficit into a 22-17 victory. All Lions fans would love to see Hogg unshackled this weekend but the Hawick man knows it’s likely to be another cagey encounter.
“You can plan for x, y, z but sometimes the game goes in the opposite direction,” acknowledged the full-back. “In the first half there was a bit of ill-discipline, we gave them cheap field position and easy points. That has been addressed, something we have looked at and hopefully we can be better at that tomorrow.
“We just have to expect the unexpected. We don’t quite know what is going to come other than a massive aerial threat as they were incredible under the high ball in defence and attack last week.”
While the Lions have potent attacking threats in the shape of Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe and Anthony Watson, South Africa can counter this with Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, two wingers who can unlock the best defences in the world.
“When the game opens up a bit you will see these guys,” cautioned Hogg. “There will be times we are uncomfortable in defence and it is how we regain control and get in the position to go after them again.
“If the game does open up a little bit then that’s perfect for us as well. We want to be in a position to move these big boys around and play in the right areas. We have a game plan that excites me as a back three player and excites everybody else but we have to get the fundamentals of the game right and get some good ball. If we get that we are on the right track.”
Extra motivation, though it hardly seems like it is required, will come from Hogg’s pride at representing Hawick in a Lions jersey, following in the footsteps of men such as Hugh McLeod, Jim Renwick, Colin Deans and Tony Stanger.
“I am a very passionate Hawick man,” he said. “At one point the Borders was the heartland of Scottish rugby and the place means a lot to me. To be involved with one of my best mates, Rory Sutherland, we were brought up together, to be playing for the Lions together is very special and the support we have had from the townsfolk has been absolutely incredible.”
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