Stuart Hogg’s versatility secured Lions place

Warriors pair Sean Maitland (left) and Stuart Hogg are in good spirits after hearing the squad announcement. Picture: SNS
Warriors pair Sean Maitland (left) and Stuart Hogg are in good spirits after hearing the squad announcement. Picture: SNS
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THE sight of Stuart Hogg leaping around and “screaming like a girl” on the Scotstoun pitches in Glasgow yesterday provided some idea of what it means to be selected for the British and Irish Lions.

The 20-year-old was the youngest player named in the squad and so, following tradition, will carry the squad mascot for the duration of the 2013 tour of Australia, via Hong Kong.

Although he is a Glasgow Warrior, he will become the 12th player from the Hawick club to be selected for Lions duty 125 years on from the first tour, also to Australia, that featured Hawick brothers Willie and Robbie Burnet, and forward Alex Laing.

But Hogg could not bear to watch the announcement with the rest of his Glasgow teammates. “I was out kicking with Mossy [Chris Paterson],” he explained. “I ran back in to get my kicking tee and picked up my phone at the same time, and gave it to him and started kicking. After I’d kicked a few, I asked him for the phone and went up the other end and started watching it on the Sky app.

“Initially, I wasn’t going to watch it, then I was, then I wasn’t, and then I did. As soon as I saw it on the screen I screamed like a little girl. Mossy heard me from the other end of the pitch. It’s a feeling that I’ve never really experienced before. I have no idea how to describe it. When your name comes up it’s just a big relief. Jim [Renwick] just sent me a message with two words: ‘ya beauty’. So I think he’s happy.”

Renwick has been a mentor to Hogg since the youngster emerged from the Hawick Wanderers youth ranks and, with no Borders pro team, developed through Borders College’s Base rugby programme. He joined Glasgow in 2011 and was thrust into the starting line-up due to injury to Peter Murchie. He duly grabbed his chance, going on to make his debut for Scotland in 2012 against Wales and finishing the season as the RaboDirect PRO12’s Young Player of the Season.

He has now amassed 15 caps and scored three tries and, while he becomes the ninth Scotland full-back to become a Lion, following Dan Drysdale, Angus Cameron, Ken Scotland, Stu Wilson, Andy Irvine, Bruce Hay, Peter Dods and Gavin Hastings, 2013 backs coach Rob Howley revealed that it was Hogg’s range of skills across the pitch that had secured him a Lions spot.

“We have been really impressed with Stuart Hogg,” he said. “He has a huge X-factor about him. He plays full-back, he can play 13 and I think he can play ten as well.

“There is a thing about the Lions, the magic of the journey, that you can throw someone in. Primarily it [picking just two stand-offs] is about accelerating the preparation time for Jonathan [Sexton] and Owen [Farrell] to put their hands up because it is so important for a ten to have time in combination with the half-back as well. If you have another ten you are possibly taking time away from the two tens who have been selected.

“But, to navigate a Lions team, while our tens will be backing up, Stuart Hogg may be stepping into that position. That was a key discussion for us. James Hook was called up in 2009 as a utility player and we discussed Billy Twelvetrees, who was in the mix, but we have been so impressed with Stuart Hogg in terms of his playing 15 and 13 with Glasgow and we think he has that ability to play ten.

“One thing about the Lions is you give players that opportunity and you just don’t know. Stuart is a utility player who, as I said, has a creative X-factor about him.”

Howley has done his research. Hogg grew up as a promising stand-off and played at ten and centre for Hawick, but has only had fleeting moments in the pivotal berth during games at pro level. He would be happy to step in there for the Lions, however.

“I have good experience at ten and that’s where I played when I was growing up,” he confirmed, “so I’m happy to play wherever I’m asked to play.

“It’s just great to be involved. I grew up watching the Lions, and my earliest memory is probably of coach Jim Telfer on the 1997 tour [he was five years old]. I remember playing for the Borders under-16s when Jim was the coach and the first thing I said to him when we met up was ‘I watched the Lions ’97 video last night Mr Telfer’ and he had a wee bit of a laugh about that.

“Just to be coached by a man of that calibre at that age was incredible. He has coached at the highest level and is now coaching at under-18 level, which is just testament to the man’s character. But he has that aura from being a Lions player and coach, I think. He has been amazing for Borders rugby, Scottish rugby and the Lions, and rugby worldwide.

“Growing up in Hawick, it’s Lions players you pick to inspire you, like Brian O’Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson, who I watched, and I’d love to think that there might be somebody running around on the streets this summer as me. That’s pretty silly to be honest. But I’m loving it and really, really looking forward to the next few months. I’m chuffed to bits.”

The screams had subsided, but that much was still obvious.