Treatment of Stuart Hogg and the ‘Edinburgh Six’ is shameful

Mystery surrounds the players' Saturday night excursion after Scotland beat Italy, but that hasn't stopped the rush to condemn

Is Stuart Hogg being made the scapegoat for Scotland's poor Six Nations campaign? Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Is Stuart Hogg being made the scapegoat for Scotland's poor Six Nations campaign? Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

REMEMBER that time Stuart Hogg burst onto the international scene with his debut off the bench against Wales in Cardiff back in 2012, playing with a bristling intent we hadn’t seen for a generation?

Remember when he spearheaded a heroic Scotland assault which came within a whisker of a first ever win over the All Blacks in 2017?

And how about when he spoke from the heart about how much Scotland’s World Cup flop in 2019 had hurt, and explained why he requested the captaincy ahead of the 2020 Six Nations because he wanted to play a leading role in putting things right?

It is amazing how many people out there seem to have forgotten – and are now determined to focus with unforgiving ferocity purely on his flaws and failings instead. The word ‘scapegoat’ springs to mind.


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In the eyes of a very vocal section of social media, the guy has become a pariah, based on a sub-optimal – by his own high standards – Six Nations campaign, and the possibility that he may have broken team protocols … to go out for a drink on a Saturday night after winning an international rugby match.

Keep in mind that he’s not being accused of kicking a grandmother in the face or pushing a child’s pram down a flight of stairs.

It is far from clear whether any rules were really broken, although Rob Baxter – Hogg’s club coach at Exeter – didn’t mince his words last week when asked for his take.

“People are trying to make out there has been a clear breach of team rules – there’s not been,” he said. “There was a little bit of ambiguity over what was supposed to happen when he got back to the hotel. That ambiguity was cleared up with a phone call [from Townsend] asking the guys to come back.

“It was one of those things, sometimes it can happen, but it all got cleared up very quickly. It’s not like anyone’s gone out and got drunk and got into a fight or come back at six o’clock in the morning or missed training. So, I can probably understand why the Scottish people involved are a little frustrated that this has been a big issue, because it clearly hasn’t been.”

Glasgow Warriors attack coach Nigel Carolan was not quite as forthright, but certainly suggested that a mountain may have been created out of a molehill.

“I’m not sure of the ins and outs of what happened with Scotland but in every team I’ve been involved in there is a leadership group and they set the parameters of what’s acceptable,” said the Irishman.

“If it was here [at Glasgow], we would have made a decision in advance about what we were going to do, whether we all have a couple of beers together or whatever it is. It is part and parcel of building cohesion. You win a game and there’s nothing wrong with having a few beers as long as the protocols are adhered to.

“So, I don’t know what happened with Scotland, but here we don’t feel we need to speak to them [referring to the two Warriors players implicated in the night out]. The lads certainly didn’t think they were doing anything which was overly outside the rules, but I’m not sure of the ins and outs of how it escalated.”

Even Gregor Townsend, speaking to the media on the Sunday morning after the Ireland game, said: “There’s not been any mention by us of disciplinary [sic]. It was a private matter that was dealt with. It was unfortunate that details of that got out but these things happen in a high-performing group just as they do with a family. You have things to deal with, often things that don’t get discussed outside of the group. But you move on and you become stronger from it. Or you don’t.”

 

The mention of ‘family’ is worth dwelling on for a second, because Townsend is right about some matters best being dealt with internally, but when things get out of hand, and your own kin are being verbally kicked from pillar to post, then it is time to roll up your sleeves and join the fray.

And if their behaviour is truly indefensible then let’s have it out there, so that the punishment can fit the crime.

Townsend and Scottish Rugby’s silence on this matter since providing a vague statement to the BBC on the day the story broke – their refusal to put the whole sorry episode to rest by addressing it head-on – is a damning indictment of the team culture we heard so much about pre-tournament.

It has left the ‘Edinburgh Six’ – and particularly Hogg and Finn Russell – dangling from a hook, while the court of public opinion casts judgement based on hearsay and speculation.

The longer this goes on, the more I wonder how much of Hogg’s petulant press conference performance immediately after the Ireland match was related to frustration that he wasn’t allowed to explain himself fully.

Will we ever get to the bottom of what really happened? Not until one of the lead characters has hung up his international boots so is no longer bound by the code of silence. Based on the way Hogg and Russell have been vilified, could you really blame them if that day comes sooner rather than later?

It is all very well for self-appointed experts – lacking the ability and application required to get anywhere near a Scotland shirt themselves – to sit on their backsides and pronounce that Hogg and Russell should be humbled by the honour of representing their country, but this pair have paid their dues, many times over. At the moment, it must feel like all their effort has been in vain.

They are not flawless, but they are the best we’ve got – by a long distance – and you don’t get that many caps [93 for Hogg and 63 for Russell] if you aren’t dedicated to the cause.

These are young men, who walk with a swagger and laugh in the face of danger, which is why they are heroes to the nation during the good times. But to err is human, and they are not bullet-proof, which more than a few keyboard warriors should keep in mind when chucking stones during the bad times.


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About David Barnes 3180 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

42 Comments

  1. It hurts to say but this shows a really weak coach in Townsend. Had he dropped all 6 v Ireland and we got battered, (which we did anyway) He would have shown real team and man management.

  2. Tittle-tattle clearly fuels Scottish rugby (and Scottish Rugby).

    Compare the amounts of theorising, posts and commentary on this “issue” to those subsequently regarding the most recent SCOG communication, and the true substance of the game in Scotland becomes apparent.

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  3. He is arrogant and overrated as a player. Drops the ball too often, when he does catch it he is too selfish. A captain thinks of the team not his own glory. His poor mindless kicking along with Finn Russell’s aimless and idle play cost the Lions. Greed and arrogance are not the hallmars of a good captain. Look at the great Scottish captains of the past. Team players. There is only one important person in Stuart Hoggs World and that is Stuart Hogg not Scottish RUGBY

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  4. A question arising from the incident is, is the present regime too dictatorial with strategy and with personal time, were they on the ‘lash’ or just an enjoyable couple of beers with pals, there is a huge difference.
    Are they coached out of ‘heads up Rugby’ taking away the ability to change tactics on field, why does the Team turn up for some fixtures and not apparently others, it is the mystery of the season for me.
    Of course Russell [and others] would be happy to go out for a beer somewhere other than the Hotel, especially as he would appreciate the difference in establishment from the Café Rene, or let’s face it an Hotel Bar with as much atmosphere as the room layout.
    Spare a thought for Stewart Hogg, he is not a Gavin Hastings in as much as I think the Captaincy effects him more, Captaincy needs more abilities than just being one of the stand out players, it helps obviously but isn’t essential: a sharp brain on field and a bit closer to the ‘Coal face’ [generally speaking] is required in my opinion.
    Also a Coach has to be inspirational and of course set out parameters but within those there has to be a flexibility, the skill is knowing who needs the ‘Gypsy’s warning’ and no favorites OR long term grudges, if you get my drift. As a previous contributor to the article suggested, good or even great players do not necessarily make good Coaches, the old saying those that can do those that can’t [to the same degree] Teach is appropriate. How many of the top Coaches were also standout performers on the field, I can’t think of too many across the Rugby world.
    There are bigger problems that the SRU need to address, the obvious is the U20 followed by Super 6 and more besides, you have to cut your coat according to your cloth. Aspirations to support each and every aspect of Rugby in Scotland is all very well and good but funds need to be directed in a realistic fashion, and a lot less of its ‘my way or the highway’ across the Staff and constituent Clubs would be beneficial.

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  5. I think I’m over it now although would be interesting to find out who leaked it and then wait until some of these guys retire and publish their side of the story.

    In the meantime I’m still trying to get my head around the backline that Townsend thought was a good idea to finish the Ireland game. I dont think anyone would have forecast 13-Russell, 12-Bennett, 11-Steyn; 10-Kinghorn, 9-White. I dont think Russell has ever played 13 at pro level and both Bennett and Steyn regularly do. Talk about hanging Russell out to dry!

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  6. I personally have no problem with the boys having a drink after a hard week’s training and a good match. (And possibly a hard week of listening to Gregor too, who does not seem to be everyones cup of tea).

    We are not Puritans. The boys are responsible adults and, as a Covid bubble, there is no reason to suppose they took any unnecessary risks.

    Gregor seems to have been in unduly control-freak mode. I doubt that locking players down for 40 days during the 6N is the best way to handle things. I imagine the real concern was from the SRU end, worrying that they might get some negative PR if team members were seen to be ‘out on the town.

    A good head coach would just have deputed someone to go corral them and lead them home, not start phoning up or imposing curfews. We shouldn’t be treating our senior, gifted players as naughty schoolboys, that is a surefire way to lose the dressing room.

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  7. In normal circumstances this is definitely much ado about nothing. However, in these Covid times the breaking of team bubbles can have serious consequences. My understanding is that other Scotland rugby teams were staying at the same hotel. The players who went out for a drink may well have passed on the virus not only to their team mates but to the ladies who had adhered to the rules. If sufficient numbers succumbed to Covid the following match may have had to be postponed at a considerable financial cost to the SRU not to mention the inconvenience and cost to those who had purchased a ticket. I totally agree with the comments of others calling for either a member of the SRU Executive or Townsend to provide a full explanation of what actually took place and which Covid protocols, if any, were broken

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  8. Well said David I totally agree with you. I sometimes wonder if these bedroom media surfers have ever played sport at all never mind Rugby.

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    • the main drivers are journalists. One of them at least is still at it this morning

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    • Think you should read Iain Milnes comments (13thMarch) don’t think he is a media surfer,but has played a bit. We all will never agree about anything until we get a statement as to what actually happened, someone has something to hide? That is my assumption (could well be wrong)This will haunt team beyond the world cup if not sorted.

  9. Who cares about the tittle tattle. On the pitch Scotland were poor and inconsistent during the 6Ns. Finn Russell epitomises the issue – amazing skills but he is flabby, work shy and gives off an air of not really giving one. Fine if you want characters but not if you want to win. Scotland has to decide if it wants rugby to remain a niche sport as an excuse to get pissed (nothing wrong with that per se) or wants to take it seriously and grow. Can’t help think the womens game will be its saviour.

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  10. I’m not sure its the drinking or covid protocols which are really the issue, but rather Hogg’s continued brainfarts which end up deciding matches, and the total lack of contrition or self-awareness he displays afterward. And he keeps on doing it!

    I think of Scotland captains of old: Jim Aitken, Andy Irvine, Hastings, Kelly Brown, Laidlaw, and I see a common thread of no nonsense toughness and discipline which SH sorely lacks. Not captain material. But yes he is a superb player and could be even better if he focused on the team a bit more.

    The other issue of course is Townsend’s inability to manage events, his SRU hierarchy and of course his team. Some of this appears to be down to arrogance, which is not really borne out of anything tangible that he’s achieved.

    Scottish rugby needs a good clear out. New CEO, Coach, Captain. We need a bit more humility, honesty and willingness to be accountable. As they say, the fish rots from head down.

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  11. Well said David. Pretty sure Alex Ferguson said only good players make good managers. Townsend should have gone to his bed rather than on the phone. The great football managers knew when to turn a blind eye and Ferguson often left the dressing room to sort things out for itself. Such confrontation can indeed only have one winner but it comes at a cost as we saw in Dublin.

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  12. I think this event, whilst being fairly small fry in the scheme of things, is indicative of a malaise within the Scotland squad.
    I admit to never being of the opinion that Townsend was ready for the role of head coach.
    I cannot imagine this would have happened under the reign of Vern Cotter, but perhaps I am looking through rose tinted glasses.
    Either way I am fairly bored of the continuing inconsistency shown by the squad.
    The only constant appears to be the positives Townsend takes away from our defeats as well as our sporadic victories

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  13. Why did a journalist feel the need to make the mountain in the first place. If this is a non story as the journalist writing this suggests then it is a damning indictment on his profession who made this an issue in the first place.

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    • I recommend you and everyone else watch the post match interview of Ireland against Scotland.

      A certain journalist probes for answers regarding the night out four times, despite being hinted at the first time he asked that this was a closed door matter, yet he continues, why?

      You will hear the journalists name in the interview, very contradictory to what i’m reading in this article

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  14. Well reported David. Not a stellar performance from team management either concerning the incident or in the Irish game itself bringing on Finn Russell when all was but lost and, excuse me, playing centre to a stand off who ranks at least 3rd after Hastings and FR. I don’t care who was out on a Saturday night 7 days b4, what I do care about and paid a lot of money to see in Dublin, was our best side and I did not. No wonder Maitland and others have said either play me or not.. don’t use me as a tackle bag or as some sort of sacrificial lamb like FR and Hogg to divert attention from others inadequacies!

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  15. Serious question. Why do you delete comments that make valid points counter to yours? Surely journalists should want to hear their readers views? Debate is healthy.

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    • We don’t. We have a filter system to try to prevent abusive comments and we don’t have the manpower to monitor it 24-7. So sometimes you have to be patient.

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  16. All these articles totally miss the point. Elite athletes simply should not be boozing during a competition.

    Does Federer have a cheeky night out during Wimbledon? Mo Farah during the Olympics?

    Each individual is responsible for their own actions and team rules are irrelevant.

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  17. I’m really not that bother regarding the six going out if it helped bonding and leading to a great team performance and win but it clearly didn’t!
    Hoggs involvement in “the six “and his brain fart during the Ireland game just compounded his poor judgements! Add his petulant performance post match indicated a sad captain and poor captain ship! Hoggs a talent but he’s not as good as he thinks he is- I’m fed up with him making stupid plays which unfortunately have game changing decisions!!
    He’s clearly our best FB and free of being captain should help him regain his mojo!
    Still unable to understand why Finn ended on the bench behind Kinghorn ( whose not even the best Scottish qualified 10 in Edinburgh)!
    Sick to death of losing to poor Irish and Welsh teams – Townsend and coaches need to up their games

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  18. Obviously like the rest of us I’ve no idea what happened in detail.
    I do tend to think that Baxter and Carolan will have it right. So a small issue sorted internally and no-one died.
    Yet I read about poor treatment of players, and various suggestions that Hogg (especially) has been hung out to dry. I watched the post match interviews. I saw Hogg say he had apologised to the team. And I saw the media harp on and on about it. So who is it who pushed this story again and again? It didn’t originate on Joe Bloggs facebook or twitter. It originated on the accounts of certain members of the press core. And I’d guess someone from the SRU camp is pushing it. Wonder who and why? Who benefits?

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  19. Why, when the story broke ,did someone not just come out and say what actually happened? Someone has something to hide? Just means we all can promote our own agendas. Had our captain come out saying we got it wrong, big time, apologise to travelling fans and story squashed. In my opinion wrong on every level but if in possession of a plausible explanation I might think differently, but if these guys won’t come clean they are getting what they deserve. They know they are in the spotlight (especially during 6 nations). No sympathy.

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  20. Whilst in no way condoning the “mistake” by the players involved I’ve been incandescent with the general “blogging” reaction on various rugby sites in the past few days.Sticking Hogg and Russell these are two young men who have given followers of the club and international game countless moments of huge sporting pleasure for the past ten years.We are a small country on the sporting map so,like it or not,these guys are up there with Wilkinson,Pele,Charlton and Ali as sporting icons in our wee domain.Butv they are human like the rest of us so the outcry from amongst rugby followers who have enjoyed them over the years has been ridiculous particularly as there has been no official line outlining what actually happened after the return from Rome (remember this must have been following an evening charter back pretty soon after the game finished on the Saturday.)
    Oh and for anyone who properly watched the match I thought Hogg was absolutely outstanding in all aspects of play in the Irish game bar the failure to pass inside to Sam Johnson for a run in rather than go for the corner himself (albeit I agree that was a match defining error of judgement!)
    Well said David and shame on those long standing supporters of Scottish rugby who have ranted on wanting nothing short of a public execution of our two leading players.

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  21. Townsends management team must have advised the players on how and where they could celebrate an Italian victory when they returned to Edinburgh, especially with Covid restrictions and another match on Saturday.
    If not this seems very poor management. Certainly clarity from the Townsend is needed.
    Also some transparency on Townsends game plan especially for the Welsh game would be interesting.

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  22. Finally someone speaking some sense. Been blown out of all proportion and whoever leaked it should be ashamed.

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  23. They are well paid for what they do and we’re staying in a luxury hotel which I’m fairly sure had a bar. After two years of Covid bubbles which bit were they unsure of?
    As to Hogg as a player, he’s no better or worse than he has ever been.

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  24. Good piece David. The question to me has always been who leaked the story, when, and why? It seemed to me to be the work of someone with a very clear agenda that suddenly Tom English and Andy Burke at the BBC were talking about this on the day before the game. Who told them? To what end? It did nothing to help the Scotland performance on the Saturday

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  25. ‘Hearsay and speculation’ are two key words you rightly mention. None of the complainers on social media know what the protocols were and whether any were actually broken.

    There wouldn’t have been much further chat about the incident had a good performance been delivered against Ireland. Unfortunately they played poorly and Hogg in particular made one very egregious error in the game, but none of that is likely to have been due to bad preparation or raging hangovers from having a couple of beers six days earlier…

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    • For the life of me I can’t see why anyone would ‘thumbs down’ anything you have said.

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  26. Well said David. I think it is about time someone wrote balenced, objective and fair on this.

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  27. At last! A refreshing read- taking the sensible view – respectful of the players who have given us so much pleasure and excitement. It seems for many so called supporters you are only as good as your last mistake. Let’s think how Hoggy and the others must be feeling- they didn’t want or mean to lose matches- they have shown their pride in wearing the shirt – tried their best – tried too hard perhaps – they need our support not condemnation for being human after all

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  28. Well said David. Without knowing all the facts it’s hard to say how much they have erred. It was the night after a game, not the night before. I appreciate Covid brings risks and responsibilities, so it may have been inappropriate….but I don’t get some of the extreme reaction. We also have to remember the amount of time these players have been working in bubbles, often away from home and recently as the world around has opened up.

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