Gregor Townsend explains why Stuart Hogg is the new Scotland captain
Now is the right time for star full-back
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend believes it is the “right time” for Stuart Hogg to lead his nation into a new era after naming the star-full back as his captain for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations.
The 27-year-old Exeter Chiefs player replaces hooker Stuart McInally as the Scots look to rebuild after a disappointing Six Nations, in which they finished fifth in last year’s tournament before a pool-stage exit at the World Cup in Japan.
Townsend, who included six uncapped players in his initial 38-man squad, was Hogg’s club coach for a number of years at Glasgow and said of his fellow Borderer: “I think Stuart is at the right time to do it. He’s learned a lot from his own experiences and from others.
“This is the right time for him. Maybe a few years ago it would have been too early. He wants to do it. And he has the experience and knowledge about what needs to be said, when to let others talk.”
With the Test retirements after Japan of Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay, as well as experienced wing Tommy Seymour, Hogg is now the most capped player in the squad with 72.
At the other end of the spectrum, the six uncapped inclusions are Gloucester lock Alex Craig, Glasgow’s Australian wing Ratu Tagive, who is now Scottish qualified, Edinburgh flanker Luke Crosbie, his back-row team-mate Nick Haining, Glasgow loose forward Thomas Gordon and Warriors centre/wing Kyle Steyn.
Notable exclusions include the veteran Glasgow pair of back-rower Ryan Wilson and centre/stand-off Pete Horne. Warriors No.8 Matt Fagerson has a rib injury, which opens the door for the return of former Edinburgh man Cornell du Preez, who is now at Worcester and won the last of his six caps in the thumping by Wales at the start of the 2018 Six Nations.
Hogg, meanwhile, has captained Scotland before against United States in Houston on the 2018 summer tour and it ended with a shock 30-29 defeat.
“We lost the game, but I don’t think it was anything to do with Stuart’s captaincy. We started well and we lost our way a bit and almost won the game at the end. It was obviously a young team, he was captain and there were a lot of guys on their first caps. He’d been vice-captain in a number of games, Stuart McInally was the tour captain but was injured until the Argentina game. The positive thing was that certainly didn’t put him off, he learned a few things about how to speak to players during games when things aren’t going your way, and he wants to put that into practice. At times with Glasgow and Scotland, he’s worked with Al Kellock, with Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay, he’s seen how things worked for them. And I’m sure he’ll lean on guys like Al and Greig for advice.
Scotland face a daunting start with a match against Ireland in a city where they have won only once in 20 years [at Croke Park ten years ago]. They have never tasted victory at the revamped Lansdowne Road, now the Aviva Stadium.
The February 1 crunch comes just over four months after a comprehensive 27-3 dismantling by the men in green in Yokohama derailed the World Cup campaign before it had even got going.“We’ll see what happens in the Six Nations,” said Townsend, who knows another poor campaign could lead to the end of a job he took over in 2017 and is contracted to through to the end of next season.
Townsend has made a change to usual preparations, taking the players to a Spain training camp the week before the opening match then directly to Dublin on the Thursday.
Forwards: Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti, Magnus Bradbury, Fraser Brown, Alex Craig, Luke Crosbie, Scott Cummings, Allan Dell, Cornell du Preez, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Tom Gordon, Nick Haining, Stuart McInally, Willem Nel, Jamie Ritchie, Rory Sutherland, Ben Toolis, George Turner, Hamish Watson.
Backs: Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Adam Hastings, Stuart Hogg (c), George Horne, Rory Hutchinson, Sam Johnson, Huw Jones, Blair Kinghorn, Sean Maitland, Matt Scott, Byron McGuigan, Ali Price, Henry Pyrgos, Finn Russell, Kyle Steyn, Ratu Tagive.