Stuart Hogg wants to come of age as a Lion without Billy
The Scotland full-back was the youngest tourist to Australia in 2013 as a 20-year-old but, on next month’s quest to New Zealand, it will be the 22-year-old Itoje, pictured, who is tasked with looking after Billy the Lion – the soft toy that accompanies the Lions to every match.
The double Six Nations player of the tournament said: “Billy is pretty much attached to your hip. For a stuffed toy to go walkabouts is pretty weird, but for some reason he seems to go hiding every now and then.
“I was on the receiving end of it last time. Here’s hoping I can get my own back.”
Hogg was the rookie on that 2013 tour but, after developing into one of Europe’s most dangerous attacking backs, he is fully focused on earning a Test place against the world champion All Blacks. He said: “It’s starting to feel real. On the last tour, I was really young and inexperienced and didn’t have a huge influence on the tour.”
Hogg speaking at the Lions’ training camp near Dublin ahead of Monday’s flight to New Zealand, added: “I’ve learned a great deal since then  and I believe I’m in a good place. I’ve got the coaches and players to make me as good as possible.”
“We’ve had a couple of weeks [together] and the boys have got to know one another. There will be more integrating over the next week and it’s really easy to gel.”
Hogg has been rooming with Anthony Watson and the England wing has made some tongue-in-cheek complaints about the Scot’s snoring but the Glasgow Warrior reports that the process of four nations becoming one team has been easy.
“We’ve got huge respect and admiration for ever player,” said the 24-year-old. “Everyone’s got a job to do and the final goal for us it to win a Test series, so everybody’s on the same page.”
There has been disappointment that Hogg is joined by only two other Scots, so far, on the tour after fellow Warrior Tommy Seymour joined him in the original selection and Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw was subsequently called up when England scrum-half Ben Youngs withdrew for family reasons.
However, the full-back insisted that the trio were now representing the British Isles. “We’ll be going out to make our nation of Scotland proud, but everyone in the British Isles and Ireland as well,” he said.
It will be Hogg’s first taste of rugby in New Zealand but he is an avid watcher of Super Rugby and is looking forward to working with Waikato coach Dave Rennie when he takes over at Glasgow later in the summer.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about Dave,” said Hogg. “With Gregor [Townsend] going to Scotland, he played a huge part in me staying with Glasgow.”