STUART HOGG’S contribution to Glasgow Warriors during his nine year association with the club will never be forgotten by those who coached or played alongside him, but their admiration for his commitment and ability as an attacking force has not blinded the current squad from the aspects of his game which aren’t quite so world class.
Warriors assistant coach Kenny Murray admits that there has been plenty of chat around Scotstoun this week about coming up against the full-back (who joined English giants Exeter Chiefs over the summer) in Saturday’s European Heineken Champions Cup clash at Sandy Park – but stresses that while there is no lack of respect for the former team-mate, there is also an appreciation there that he is fallible, especially in defence.
“We all know that he is a guy who can have a massive impact on the game – if you allow him time or space, he can rip you apart,” said Murray. “However, from our point of view, we also know that his defence maybe isn’t quite as strong as his attack, so we’ll be looking to exploit and expose that as best we can.”
Murray added that it would be a mistake for Warriors to focus too much on just Hogg. “Listen, they are not a one-man team, by any means,” he stressed.
“Look at that game at the weekend against La Rochelle, in the middle of the park Henry Slade pulls a lot of strings for them, Nic White at nine is a good player and Sam Simmonds at No 8 is as good a ball-career as you are going to get in the Premiership, so Hoggy is one cog in that wheel.
“For us, it is about trying to exploit the opportunities that we see against them, and as much as Stuart is a good attacking player and we need to deal with that, maybe there is things we can when he have the ball to pick him off,” he reiterated.
Know thy enemy
It goes both ways, of course, with Murray acknowledging that Hogg will also be able to give his new team-mates some valuable inside information ahead of Saturday’s game.
“I think that will be excellent for Exeter. At the end of the day, it is a job for Stuart, and now he is in a different role where his responsibility is to help Exeter and win with Exeter. That’s just the way it goes.
“He’ll know how we attack, how we defend and have ideas himself where there might be opportunities against us. Whether we continue doing some of the stuff he might anticipate is a different matter.”
The big challenge for Warriors is to have enough possession to be able to really ask those questions of Hogg that they think he might struggle to answer. As they discovered the last time they visited Sandy Park two years ago, the Chiefs are pretty proficient at suffocating the life out of teams who don’t come to the gun show packing some heavy artillery.
“The big thing with Exeter is a lot of their game is based on territory and physicality, so they’ll want to get into our 22 and then turn the screw,” acknowledged Murray. “Like any other European game, we’ll have to be at our defensive best, especially away from home.
“They are a really good attacking team, he added. “They are strong from the line-out, they drive half the time and have some really tidy little bust plays with Simmonds at the tail. They change Slade and Ian Whitten around a lot so Slade jumps into 12 as a ball player, so we’ll need to be ready for that.
“We try to play a high-tempo game and they are possibly not used to English Premiership teams playing like that against them, so that will be part of our focus,” Murray continued. “We have seen opportunities in their defensive alignment that we feel we can expose.
“And, obviously, the key thing is stopping them getting into the areas of the park they want to play from, so discipline is going to be huge. If you go down there and are ill-disciplined then you allow them to get into those attack zones.”
Something has to give
Both teams go into this Pool 2 match off the back of victories in round one, although it will be the Chiefs who will feel they made the more emphatic statement having dismantled La Rochelle 12-31 at the Stade Marcel Deflandre, while Warriors made heavy weather of their 13-7 home win over Sale Sharks.
“It’s not a bad thing as a coach if you win a European game and you are frustrated, thinking that the team could have done this or that better,” reflected Murray. “So, it is about understanding what we didn’t do well and making sure we change that for this week – particularly our game management because I thought we overplayed the phases at times when we should have been looking to kick accurately.”
“It just reinforces that we have to be relentless at it. We got on top of them for the first half but then they changed a few of the players – Akker van der Merwe came on at hooker as a strong ball carrier – and we just didn’t impose ourselves physically.
“To be fair, over the whole 80 minutes, it was probably one of our better defensive efforts in recent times – we were pretty physical and we forced some really good turnovers at breakdown – so, we’ve just got to be more consistent in attack and defence across the 80 minutes.”