THE knee injury sustained by Wales’ influential playmaker Gareth Anscombe during Saturday’s World Cup warm-up match against England, which has ruled him out of the tournament, comes as a timely reminder of the tight-rope national team head coaches must tread as they try to get their top players match ready for the trip to Japan at the same time as ensuring that they steer clear of injury.
From a Scottish perspective, there is perhaps half a dozen players who are so crucial to the team’s prospects that Gregor Townsend must surely be giving serious consideration as to whether they should be wrapped on cotton wool throughout the next month, during which time his side will play France and Georgia twice each.
Stuart Hogg certainly fits into that category but Townsend can be sure of a fairly sharp reception from the full-back if he chooses to suggest to his fellow Borderer that a cosseted seat at the back the stand might be the best place for him during these warm-up matches. Hogg is a highly competitive animal, and after nearly two months of training without the release-valve of a real match to play, he is in serious need of a proper hit-out.
“It has been a nightmare if I am honest,” he responded, when asked about a summer schedule of constant training but no real matches. “We have been eight weeks together and normally if that was the Six Nations we would have dispersed and gone back to our club.
“We have had a load of people coming into camp to speak to us, talking about their experiences. We have had dinners out, we have trips, we have tried to keep it as lively and as fun as we possibly can within reason. Recovery is massive at this time of year. It has been enjoyable but tough.
“We’re ready to fire into the games now. We’re getting bored having no games at the weekends. This week is different. It’s a Test week and a chance to pull on the Scotland jersey and got to France and hopefully get a good win and kick on and hopefully achieve something special at the World Cup.
If Hogg does get the nod against France in the fist of those warm up matches on Saturday, or in any of the three matches to follow – against France at home on 24thAugust, followed by Georgia away on 31stAugust and finally Georgia at home on Friday 6thSeptember – then you can bet your bottom dollar that he won’t be taking it easy in order to avoid picking up a badly timed knock.
“If you think like that you won’t be going to the World Cup,” he states. “You will get injured or not play very well. It is an opportunity to pull on a Scotland jersey and there is no better feeling than winning in that jersey. If I am given the opportunity at the weekend, I will grab it with both hands and express myself and have some fun and do my part to help us win.
“It has been a long time coming and the boys are champing at the bit to get out there. The 23 at the weekend has the chance to get the ball rolling.
“There’s a lot of experience within the squad now and a lot of young boys coming through who are asking the right questions and are willing to learn and improve. We feel we’re in a good place and everyone is working hard towards the same goal of winning this weekend and hopefully we can do that.
“These games are massive,” he adds. “We need to be in a position where we’re playing some nice rugby. We feel confident in the structures and want each individual to have a good amount of game time going into the Ireland game. We’ve been working incredibly hard to get where we want to be, and this week is about putting into practice what we’ve done over the past seven or eight weeks.”