Stuart Hogg on his ‘horrendous’ Covid isolation and why he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy
The Scotland captain was cooped up in his hotel room in Johannesburg for seven days as the tour party decamped to Cape Town.
Happily, the full back has served his time and been able to rejoin the squad and will lead out the Lions against the Stormers on Saturday.
It’s the final game before the Test series begins and Hogg still has time to stake his claim. His main rival for the No 15 jersey, Liam Williams, is currently going through head injury assessment protocols after suffering a knock in Wednesday evening’s bruising defeat against South Africa A.
Hogg’s motivation has been ramped up a notch by memories of 2017 when he had to leave the Lions tour early in New Zealand after suffering a serious facial injury during the win over the Crusaders, forcing him to miss the Test series.
“I’m absolutely buzzing to be back and hugely excited about another opportunity to represent the Lions,” said the full-back, one of five Scots in the starting XV to face the Stormers, with another two on the bench.
“The experience I had in 2017 was something I kept quiet and almost to myself for a long time. I felt going into that tour I’d been playing some good rugby and to have it taken away from me was bitterly disappointing.
“It probably took me a year and a half to two years to get over it and get back up and running and get excited about playing rugby again. But I had the hunger and the drive to try to get back here. My focus all along was to make sure I gave myself every opportunity to represent the Lions again.
“And now that I’m here it’s about making the most of it. There has been a lot of hard work along the way and since getting here the hard work has continued and I’m delighted to be given another opportunity and hugely excited to go out there at the weekend.”
Hogg captained the Lions to a 56-14 win over the Sigma Lions in the opening match of the South Africa tour but has not played since following the Covid outbreak in the camp. It’s been a frustrating time for the Exeter player who was confined to his hotel room.
“I’ve had to suck it up and get on with my job,” he said. “The main thing is that everyone is fit and well and healthy now.
“For me, the key was just to get into a good routine. It’s a long, old time to be hidden away, so getting my routine sorted and making sure I was being as productive as I possibly could seemed to pass the time a lot quicker.
“It was challenging at times but we had a little mini-isolation group and we had a good crack along the way and kept each other going. But I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, it was a horrendous few days but I’m delighted to be back.”
Things improved marginally when the Lions left Johannesburg for Cape Town on Sunday, and Hogg was able to do some gym work. But the full-back is likely to be lacking in match sharpness having not played since July 3.
“It became a little bit easier once the boys and everyone in the touring party left,” he said. “I got a little bit of time to spend in the gym and managed to sanitize down about a million times while I was in there.
“So I got the chance to do everything I possibly could. I was carrying a little knock after a training session but I’m all good now and excited to get going again.”
Having rejoined the squad, Hogg was able to get on the pitch ahead of the match with South Africa A and do some running. He then watched with interest as the Lions suffered their first defeat of the tour against a team which is unlikely to look too different from the Springboks side which takes on the Lions in the first Test on July 24.
“It was a hugely physical encounter and the boys really dug deep at times,” Hogg said of Wednesday’s 17-13 loss.
“At times on Wednesday night it wasn’t ideal for us but I thought our ability to bounce through mistakes and get on with the next job was absolutely outstanding.
“As Warren says, we’ve seen exactly what the South Africans are going to come with. That excites us. We feel we’re in a very good place and we’ll start to gear up and get excited about the next few weeks.”
Stand-off Finn Russell, who is nursing an Achilles injury, is the only one of the eight Scottish Lions not involved in Saturday’s game.
Ali Price starts at scrum-half and the Scotland No 9 will have new Lions recruit Marcus Smith as his halfback partner. The young England fly-half was drafted into the squad following Russell’s injury. Hogg will provide stand-off cover.
There are also starts for Scotland winger Duhan van der Merwe, prop Rory Sutherland and openside flanker Hamish Watson. Zander Fagerson and Chris Harris are named among the replacements.
Gatland said he was looking forward to seeing in action again as the Lions seek a return to winning ways.
“Hoggy has been a little bit unlucky on the last couple of Lions tours - getting an eye injury in 2017, which put him out of the series, and then being a close contact with Covid, which has kept him out of a couple of games,” said the coach. “So it’s good to have him back, and he’ll be raring to go.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.