Stuart Hogg seeks advice from Joe Marler and Scotland wellbeing coach as he prioritises mental health
At the end of last season’s Premiership final at Twickenham Stuart Hogg sought out Joe Marler and spoke about their shared experiences and coping with the mental strain of top-level rugby.
Marler’s Harlequins had just beaten Hogg’s Exeter Chiefs in a thrilling match but there were bigger issues at play.
The England prop had opened up about his mental health issues in May in a documentary for Sky in the hope it would help others in what he called an “alpha male-dominated sport like rugby”.
Marler’s experiences struck a chord with Hogg who said he struggled with aspects of how the season ended.
The Scotland captain found himself dropped to the bench by Exeter for the Premiership semi-final and final, the club’s two biggest games of the season, and then left out by the British & Irish Lions for the series decider against South Africa after starting the first two Tests.
It was tough to take for Hogg who found some solace from speaking to Ben Scott, Scottish Rugby’s wellbeing coach, on his return from Cape Town.
“We’re seen examples in the last year or so at the Olympics and other huge occasions where people haven’t quite been able to be themselves or perform to their full ability because the mental side wasn’t where it needs to be,” said Hogg. “We’re very fortunate to have Ben Scott in the camp and he’s worked wonders with individuals and with us as a team. We’re learning all the time about the different things that help us with our mindset and mental health. And he’s been absolutely tremendous. I’ve spoken to Ben a few times since he’s been around the camp but mostly since the Lions tour to get to where I am now.”
The full-back said he made “subtle changes” which included cutting back on alcohol and losing five kilos. He feels re-energised and ready to throw himself back into Test match rugby for Scotland against Australia, South Africa and Japan next month.
He says that addressing his mental health has been key to reaching this point.
“It’s something I’ve probably been shying away from or hiding from for a little while but I’ve gained a huge amount of confidence from people standing up and speaking out,” Hogg said. “People like Joe Marler. I watched a documentary about him towards the back end of last season and after they beat us in the final with Quins I said to him I could relate to 90 per cent of the things that he was going through.
“I found it really quite refreshing that [there was] somebody else….. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t in my own little bubble, there was somebody else going through very, very similar things. I had a good conversation with him after the game for a couple of minutes which made the world of difference.”
The summer spent with the Lions was a rollercoaster for Hogg. It was his third tour but his first time in the Test side and after the thrill of winning the first match against South Africa he found himself cast aside after the second Test was lost.
The Springboks went on to win the decider but it was a long, arduous summer. The squad was cooped up in hotels due to Covid and Hogg had to go through a period in isolation. It was not surprising that he requested an extra two weeks off when he returned home.
“I just felt I was physically drained, mentally drained, after we had a season and a half put into a year. Rob Baxter and the rest of the team at Exeter gave me an extra couple of weeks off.
“It was massive and I got to spend more time with my wife and kids who had not been around all summer. I felt refreshed and energised and ready to go again.
“The subtle changes? I managed to drop a few kilos in weight, roughly about five kilos. I have looked after my body a lot better over these past couple of months. Just trying to get myself in the best possible place physically and mentally to go out there and perform and, as I say, I have enjoyed being back in with the Chiefs and look forward to being part of the Scotland team as of next week officially. Exciting times.”
Hogg has in the Scotland camp at Oriam this week but he won’t play in this Saturday’s autumn opener against Tonga due to club commitments, with Exeter facing Gloucester on Friday night. Instead, he will be at Murrayfield to provide analysis on television before joining the preparations for the match against Australia in Edinburgh a week on Sunday.
Hogg describes the changes he’s made as “one percenters”, little things that can help him be the best version of himself, including cutting his drinking.
“I have pretty much given up a lot of alcohol over the last while and obviously over the summer it is good to relax and unwind but yeah, it has a big impact on how I am feeling as a person, as a sportsman.
“I wanted to try these one percenters in order to allow my body to feel better and be in a position to recover a lot quicker and to be able to back up, game on game.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned over the last little while is that you’ve got to look after your body and I’ve done it for a number of years, but more so now that the games are coming thick and fast.
“I want to be in a position to play in every single game I can. It’s getting all the recovery right. In order to get that it’s all about the preparation, all the planning that goes in with it. I got to the stage at the back end of last season after playing so much rugby that my body was affecting my mood.
“If I was stiff and sore it was affecting the way I was going around my work. For everybody that knows me I’m quite a happy and lively person and I want to be like that every single day. I don’t want to be up and down like a yo-yo so I’m trying my best to look after my body because I know that’s going to look after me on the weekends.”
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