STUART HOGG is ‘touch and go’ in terms of being fit to return to action after undergoing shoulder surgery in the summer, according to Glasgow Warriors assistant coach Mike Blair.
Warriors get this year’s Champions Cup campaigning off and running this Saturday night with an away match against Exeter Chiefs, and it is not clear whether that game is a realistic target for the full-back – and with Ruaridh Jackson currently in a rich vein of form wearing the number fifteen jersey, head coach Dave Rennie will not be feeling unduly anxious about rushing the talismanic Hogg back into the side as quickly as possible.
“He [Hogg] is kind of touch and go with his availability. We’ll speak to the specialists and the physios about how he’s going to be, but he’s not going to be far off in the next couple of weeks or so,” said Blair.
“Ruaridh’s been fantastic,” Blair continued. “It’s not a position he’s massively familiar with. He’s obviously played it a bit more over the last couple of seasons, but he’s doing a great job leadership-wise, communication-wise and in terms of what he’s actually putting out on the pitch, so he’s been excellent.”
Blair added that although a few players are carrying minor knocks after last weekend’s gruelling trip to South Africa, there has been nobody new ruled out of Saturday’s game at this stage.
“It’s more bumps and bruises, not so much a case of being worried about guys being out at the moment. It’s about seeing how they react. It’s difficult when you travel straight after a game, it’s a tough schedule we’ve had but it’s good that we’ve got the eight-day turn-around.”
Exeter Chiefs were last year’s Aviva Premiership champions, they currently sit second in their domestic league table having won five games on the bounce since an opening weekend upset away to Gloucester, and have not lost at their Sandy Park base in 11 matches stretching back 11th December last year.
So, the challenge facing Glasgow Warriors when they take on Devon’s finest this Saturday is not to be sniffed at. Then, once that game is out the way, the team will barely have time to draw breath before welcoming three times European champions – and last year’s semi-finalists – Leinster to Scotstoun seven days later. And, bizarrely, this might prove to be their easiest game in pool three, because the other team they must face is free-spending Montpellier, with Vern Cotter as head coach, million-dollar-man Aaron Cruden at stand-off, and a burning desire to establish themselves as a European powerhouse after three years of stagnation under South African head coach Jake White.
But Blair reckons his team have not been particularly unlucky with the pool they have landed in. He says that the standard of competition across the board has risen in recent seasons to a level whereby it is almost impossible to avoid a devilishly difficult draw.
“There are no easy groups now. We used to talk about the ‘group of death’ but they’re all groups of death. There are at least three teams in every pool that if they won the thing you wouldn’t turn your nose up,” said the 36-year-old.
“So it’s really competitive and we talk about it in the Six Nations as well, the momentum of the first game and getting a place higher up the group to kick things off.”
“Exeter away is probably one of the hardest starts with the year they had last season, but we’ve seen with this group [of players] how capable they are of taking on challenges and they’ve done really well so far.”
“Traditionally you’d say: Win your home games and get a win away from home and some bonus points [and that will see you through]. But I don’t think you can make it as simple as that because there are French teams now travelling a little bit better than they have done, probably with more overseas players coming in, so it’s consistency of performance and hopefully we’ll get that.”
“I think this week will be a step up. Exeter are a fantastic side. They’re 11 in a row at home. I’ve been there playing with Newcastle. It’s a great atmosphere and a belief there that they win their home games, so it will be a really big challenge, but we’ve shown enough this season to know we can put our best foot forward and really challenge these guys.”