SOMETIMES it is a pleasure to be named as man of the match, but sometimes it is no consolation. Stuart Hogg was certainly not overjoyed by the award at the end of Scotland’s 22-17 defeat by New Zealand, for all that he thoroughly deserved it.
The Glasgow Warriors full-back had the All Blacks line in his sight in the final minute of the game at Murrayfield, and had he equalised, it would then have been down to Finn Russell to get the conversion on target and pull off a historic first win over New Zealand. But, as he was tackled close to touch, Hogg threw the ball forward in trying to keep the move alive. It was a wholly understandable attempt to create a try, and although Hogg was deeply disappointed not to have either scored or laid on a try for a team-mate, he was also able to express his pride at having been part of such a fine display by the home team.
“Hugely gutted,” he said when asked his over-riding reaction to the result. “We were on the brink of something bloody special, wasn’t it? The boys are devastated with that, in fairness.
“We got ourselves into good opportunities to score tries, and probably left a couple out there. We can take a huge amount of confidence going forward now.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” he continued when asked if he thought he was about to score in that last-minute dash for the line. “But like always I’ll back my ability and hopefully try and get there.
“But credit to Beauden Barrett, I think it was – cracking tackle. I was pretty gutted to chuck the ball away as well, but on another day that comes off. Aye, gutting.”
That outcome was all the more gutting, perhaps, because Scotland had fought back so well, keeping their self-belief alive after conceding two tries early in the second half to fall 15-3 behind. “I think for us it was challenging,” Hogg said of that period. “It wasn’t exactly what we wanted. Credit to them – I thought they were outstanding, and took their opportunities when they were there. For us it was another chance to get back on the horse and go again. The belief in the squad is incredible, and I believe in every single one of them that we can win on our day. Today just came up short.
“But when they went a couple of tries ahead there was never a point when I thought that game was dead and buried. I thought it was going right to the very end. It’s just gutting to be sitting here with a defeat.”
While the wait for that first win over the All Blacks goes on, the focus now switches to the game against Australia on Saturday, then beyond that the Six Nations Championship. “I think the challenge now is to back that performance up and get the right result next week. It will be a huge challenge for us, but that’s why you play rugby, isn’t it?
“We just came up short against the best team in the world for however many years, and next week we play the Aussies, who are just as good. If you’re not going out every single game to win, then what’s the point in being here?
“Now we concentrate on Australia, and when the Six Nations come round we’ll look at that – but I truly believe we’re in a position where we can achieve something special.If you’re not here to win, then there’s the door.”