Hogg ready for ‘massive test’ from Italy

Stuart Hogg
Stuart Hogg
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A try against Wales last time out has moved Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg closer to a personal “grand slam” against RBS Six Nations opposition, with Ireland the only team remaining on his hit-list.

There will be a chance to chalk the Irish off before the curtain falls, but first comes an Italian side against whom Hogg crossed the whitewash on their last visit to Murrayfield in 2013.

Since then, Hogg has gone on to notch a further six strikes for Scotland and his tally of nine leaves him one short of the total achieved by the legendary Andy Irvine, widely regarded, along with fellow Herioter Ken Scotland a decade before, as the pioneer of attacking full-back play.

Of course, Irvine and Hogg played in vastly different eras, but it is still intriguing to note of these two swashbucklers that Hogg’s nine tries have come in 29 matches, whereas his illustrious predecessor took 34 games.

The latest Hogg try was typical of the ability both men had to instinctively sniff out an opportunity, although in the vernacular of the pro game, the Hawick-reared star sees it differently.

“The back three work on a pendulum, with our winger having to shut the gate,” said Hogg. “I was having to cover his space. I do a lot of running back and forward which sometimes isn’t noticed.

“Against Wales I was in the right place at the right time and I’m happy with that.”

As for Italy, Hogg is very much on message regarding the need to show the utmost respect.

“They are a brilliant team and we have watched them closely over the past few weeks,” he said.

“They are a side which mustn’t be taken lightly as they have a cracking set of forwards.

“Our forwards will have to match them as they are really physical.

“It’s going to be a massive test for us.”

It is not just scrum coach Massimo Cuttitta, an Italian, who has had input but the forwards coach, too, says Hogg.

“Matty Taylor has told us where they are strong and where their weaknesses lie so we have done our analysis,” he said.

“Hopefully we can take advantage of turnover attack. Italy like to kick the ball as well so we need to gather their kicks and hit them on the counter-attack as well.

“Wales was about playing off our turnovers – that’s what we want to do.

“A big thing from Matty Taylor is about seizing opportunities at turnovers.

“It’s absolutely a ‘must win’ game. We have a couple of good performances under our belt but ultimately it’s zero points from two games.

“We need to keep working hard on the training pitch and put the structures in place.

“If we can get that sorted for the weekend and play well then hopefully we can get the win. Italy will make it tough for us, for 60 or 70 minutes we are really going to have to batter into them and not give them a sniff in attack either.

“There has been frustration but there is excitement coming back into the camp and getting the opportunity to pull on the jersey again. It’s an exciting week.

“We haven’t managed to get over the line in terms of winning but we have a great opportunity this weekend to make amends for that.

“It’s going to massive for us, it’s a massive game and hopefully we can kick off our Six Nations campaign.”

Scotland have been criticised for losing composure at key moments but Hogg says: “The positive thing for us it at least we are getting ourselves into the right areas and giving ourselves opportunities.

“In games gone by we might not have been in those areas. In the France game we were getting into these positions and forcing it but that’s not what we are about.

Over the last couple of weeks we have worked incredibly hard on that and we have brought in a couple different features that will hopefully work in Italy’s “22”.

“I do get more excited about facing teams like Italy as hopefully there will be more opportunities to attack this weekend. Wales had a very solid front line in defence which was tough to break down at times.

“I’m not sure the Italian defence is quite as structured although it’s still good.

“If our attack is on point then I’m sure space should open up.”

That Welsh touchdown was the latest where Hogg found himself in open prairie with the line at his mercy from well out.

What crosses his mind in those moments?

“There was a massive open space and I could see the try-line. It was a fair bit away but I could see it,” he added.

“I just wanted to get the ball down as quickly as I could and safely. I just wanted to get the try for the team.”

Indeed, but earning justifiable comparisons through stirring individual deeds with all-time greats like Andy Irvine, a fellow Lion and whose Heriot’s club he also represented for a brief spell when coming up through the ranks, surely can’t be bad?