Photo by Craig Watson –
THERE was no shortage of showstopper moments from player of the tournament Stuart Hogg during the recently completed Six Nations.
Whether it was his his nifty footwork and classy offloads to set up both John Barclay and Tommy Seymour’s tries against Italy; his monstrous penalty kick from inside his own, his electrifying jig through a flailing defence to score himself or that cheeky overhead flip to put Tim Visser over against France; or that scintillating solo score from the halfway line against Ireland – Hogg, by common consent was a revelation during the past month and a half.
However, Gregor Townsend, his club coach at Glasgow Warriors, reckons the Six Nations moment which really summed up just how special a player Hogg has become occurred during a passage of play in which the full-back did not even touch the ball.
“The big thing that maybe hasn’t been mentioned about Stuart’s game is the work-rate that he puts in now is phenomenal,” Townsend explained.
“With Duncan Taylor’s try in the France game, Tommy Seymour and him [Hogg] won the turnover, so he’s on the ground when Taylor makes his break, and right at the end you see Stuart there in support and almost collecting the pass.
“I rewound it and watched it again, and he went past about three French defenders – he must have run his hardest to get there with Duncan, and that’s how he is getting his rewards.
“You see the finished action when he gets the ball and beats players, but his positioning and work off the ball has been outstanding.”
Townsend added that Hogg’s childlike enthusiasm for ten game is the factor which really sets him apart.
“It did go away for a while two seasons ago when there was distractions after the Lions tour, but he was always the first out to training having a laugh, last to leave, and you still see that. The joy you see in the way he plays, it’s great to see,” he said.
“He’s in fantastic physical shape. He’s the quickest he’s ever been, he’s actually heavier than he’s ever been at 100kgs, so to be that powerful and that quick and have that confidence – it’s great for Scottish rugby, and obviously we’re hoping from a good performance from him tomorrow,” added the coach, casting his gaze ahead to Friday night’s must-in match for the Warriors against Ulster at Scotstoun.
“He has trained so well Monday and Tuesday. It does look like his game has moved up to another level – just in the three months that he has been away. His pace, his accuracy, his contribution in meetings, his preparation, he’s in great form and he’s full of confidence. It’s great to have him available.”
Warriors are currently sixth in the Pro 12 table, however a in against Ulster could see them climb as high as fourth and into an end-of-season play-off position – although that would also require Munster to be beaten at home to lowly Zebre.
Depsite last Friday’s gritty success over Leinster, Townsend has opted to recall almost all of his international contingent for the Ulster challenge – apatrt from Peter Horne who is struggling with a groin strain.
Glasgow Warriors team to face Ulster on Friday 25 March at Scotstoun Stadium, kick-off 7.35pm, live on BBC ALBA –
15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Mark Bennett
12. Alex Dunbar
11. Sean Lamont
10. Finn Russell
9. Henry Pyrgos
1. Gordon Reid
2. Fraser Brown
3. Sila Puafisi
4. Jonny Gray (Captain)
5. Leone Nakarawa
6. Rob Harley
7. Chris Fusaro
8. Josh Strauss
16. James Malcolm
17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa
18. Zander Fagerson
19. Tim Swinson
20. Ryan Wilson
21. Grayson Hart
22. Duncan Weir
23. Taqele Naiyaravoro
Not available due to injury: Alex Allan (concussion), Mike Blair (concussion), Kevin Bryce (shoulder), James Eddie (shoulder), Simone Favaro (ankle), Ryan Grant (arm), Peter Horne (groin), Rory Hughes (concussion), Gregor Hunter (concussion), Sam Johnson (concussion), Pat MacArthur (glut / hamstring), Peter Murchie (concussion), Fergus Scott (shoulder) and Richie Vernon (shoulder).