Scotland v England Six Nations: Our best squad in a decade says Stuart Hogg as hosts seek Calcutta Cup lift-off

It’s ten years this week since Stuart Hogg helped a Scotland A side defeat the England Saxons 35-0 at Netherdale in a match that made seasoned observers sit up and take notice.

It’s not often that second string internationals cause too many ripples but this result made waves.

Hogg announced his arrival that night with a wonderful solo try, slaloming his way through the England defence after catching a high ball in his own half.

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“I think that was the kick-start of my career, really,” Hogg reflected yesterday as he looked forward to today’s Calcutta Cup clash at BT Murrayfield.

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“It was very memorable. They had Ugo Monye on the wing who was on the Lions tour three years earlier and I don’t think he touched the ball.

“I think at that point that would have been the biggest game of rugby I had ever been involved in. To have the opportunity to represent a senior Scotland side down at Netherdale was quality.

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“It’s quite scary that it was ten years ago. It means that I’m getting old. I’ve absolutely loved it and it’s been a good journey so far but I’m far from finished.”

Hogg made his full Scotland debut nine days later and is now about to embark on his 11th Six Nations campaign and his third as captain. It has, as he says, been quite the journey.

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Stuart Hogg during the captain's run at BT Murrayfield ahead of Scotland's match with England. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Last summer he toured with the Lions for a third time and was part of the Test side in South Africa. Then in November he became Scotland’s all-time leading try-scorer by notching his 25th score in the win over Japan. There have been notable club successes, too, helping Glasgow Warriors to the Pro12 title in 2015 and then being instrumental in Exeter Chiefs’ Premiership and European Champions Cup double in 2020.

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But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Hogg spoke this week about “struggling with the comedowns” which followed his successes on the pitch and how he turned to Scotland’s wellbeing coach Ben Scott for help and advice.

“I can’t speak for what he’s done for other boys, but what he’s done for me has been absolutely incredible,” Hogg said. “We have regular meetings with Ben as a squad, and make sure we’ve got healthy relationships with everything, how we can bond as a team. For me it’s worked wonders from everything to getting my weekly schedule right to how I feel going into a game.”

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The full-back is approaching today’s match in confident mood. He says the current Scotland group is the strongest he’s played with and credits Steve Tandy in particular for the work he has done on improving their defence.

It's ten years since Stuart Hogg's memorable solo try in Scotland A's 35-0 win over England Saxons at Netherdale. Picture: Jayne Wright
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“It’s definitely the best squad I’ve ever been involved in,” said Hogg. “It’s definitely an environment and a squad that has been the best it’s ever been in terms of the ten years that I’ve been involved.

“Steve Tandy has come in and given us a huge amount of confidence to go out there and defend. He doesn’t want perfection because perfection doesn’t exist. As long as we understand where things have worked well for us.

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“He has changed our whole mindset on defending. We don’t go for out and out jackals, we try to make every breakdown as big a fight as we possibly can to slow us down to get us in a position to go again.”

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Stuart Hogg believes this is the best Scotland squad he has been involved with. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Since Gregor Townsend succeeded Vern Cotter as head coach in 2017 Scotland have held the whip hand in the Calcutta Cup, winning the trophy in 2018, retaining it at Twickenham the following year after the 38-38 draw and regaining it last year in London after they lost the 2020 match in Edinburgh.

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Prior to Townsend’s arrival there was a wretched run of eight straight defeats against England. Hogg played in five of those and admits he used to approach the fixture with something akin to dread.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t used to worry about playing England, especially in the early years,” he said. “Some of the names that used to play against us for England made playing them quite a scary task. But not now, not now. I truly believe in the ability of myself and of the squad. I believe that we can go out there and win, and that's been shown to be right over the past four years or so.

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“We know we can compete with England, and that’s the exciting thing about our squad. That’s why we get excited about this fixture, why we get excited about the challenge.”

Much has been made of the match-up between Finn Russell and Marcus Smith at stand-off, two flair players ready to ignite their respective sides. But with strong winds and heavy rain forecast their attacking instincts are likely to be curbed.

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Hogg worked with Smith on the Lions tour and sees parallels between the two fly-halves. Ominously, he also notes the young Englishman’s abilities in inclement weather.

Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg will be key to Scotland's Calcutta Cup chances. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
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“He’s a quality talent. He’s exactly what Finn was like, just coming fresh onto the scene, full of confidence. He’s got unbelievable skills and he reads the game really well. We played against him just after the New Year – Exeter vs Quins – and he was very good on that day. It was a pretty bleak day to play rugby and he managed it incredibly well. It will be an absolute quality battle between him and Finn.”

Hogg has every right to be confident but history suggests it should be tempered with realism. Scotland haven’t beaten England in successive years since 1984 when David Johnston and Euan Kennedy scored the tries in an 18-6 win at Murrayfield which was the stepping stone to a Grand Slam. A repeat performance would be the ideal start for a squad aiming to turn talent into something more tangible.

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Congratulations from Matt Scott, right, after Stuart Hogg's try for Scotland A v England Saxons in 2012 at Galashiels. Picture: Jayne Wright

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