Lean and lightning fast, Stuart Hogg is a coiled spring awaiting his chance to get back in a Scotland jersey at BT Murrayfield for the first time in eight months when the autumn Test series begins against Samoa on Saturday.
The star full-back shed nine kilograms (almost one and a half stones) after confessing to putting on too much weight earlier in the injury lay-off that curtailed his Lions tour back in June.
When asked what the guilty pleasure was that led to such a state of affairs the 25-year-old turned to the Scotland team’s media officer and asked if he could say.
“I don’t know what it was,” was the reply.
“Guinness,” said Hogg.
Once the laughter in the room had died down, the Glasgow Warriors man expanded further on what prompted him on the regime which has seen him drop under 15 stones and get himself into what his club coach Dave Rennie has described as the “best nick of his life”.
“I was sick of seeing photos of how fat I was getting, so I decided to shed a few pounds,” explained Hogg. “It’s made a difference in terms of how I look and how I play but also in terms of life in general.”
The mischievous smile returned and he added: “It sounds like I’ve been in rehab!
Hogg’s Lions tour was ended by a facial fracture in the tour game against Crusaders. Upon his return he had surgery to fix an underlying shoulder problem and only returned to action in Glasgow’s European loss to Leinster three weeks ago before featuring in the Pro14 win over Southern Kings.
“I lost about nine kilos,” he continued. “I managed to put a couple back on when the shoulder was building back up again. I was quick last year but now it’s roughly similar scores but more consistent and I feel I can go for longer as well.
“I’m never going to be a guy who can run over the top of people. I need to be in a position where I can go around them or step them. So I’ve done a lot of speedwork when I was injured and hopefully that will help.”
Hogg revealed that the moment he realised he had to get on top of things came a month after his return from New Zealand.
“I knew I was getting a shoulder op and I had the potential to balloon. It was actually at Duncie Weir’s wedding in July, where I was an usher, and I was struggling to get the jacket shut from the measurements taken six months earlier.
“I wanted to make a difference and I thought that I had been a couple of kilos too heavy over the last few years. It just happened that I managed to lose a lot. I feel comfortable at this weight and feel I can do more damage at this weight. Hopefully it will work.
“I think the biggest thing was learning about all the foods to eat. I had a rough idea what was best for me, but it seemed that the takeaways were taking over. There are a lot of factors, but it’s just being more professional about everyday life as opposed to just when you’re in playing rugby. I feel a lot better for it.
“The main thing is just being prepared. I have two young kids who take up a lot of time, so the wife and I try to get the food prepared once a week so we’re not just getting a takeaway if we can’t be bothered to cook. It’s just being professional about everyday life.”
Of course, Hogg has been brought up in a professional rugby environment since leaving school in Hawick, with all the new-fangled approaches to sports science and nutrition.
“Yeah, I just wasn’t listening,” he said with yet another broad grin.
Hogg didn’t have the chance to face New Zealand in the summer, although Lions coach Warren Gatland has recently said he would have been in the No.15 jersey for the first Test if he had stayed fit. That will come as little consolation to the Scot, who will hope for a crack at the black jerseys a week on Saturday, but he still views his time in the summer as a positive.
“I learned a hell of a lot,” he said. “I worked closely with Rob Howley, Warren Gatland and Andy Farrell. Cracking coaches. I was only there a short time but I still managed to learn a lot.
“Things I’ve tried since getting back to full fitness. It’s only going to improve me getting different feedback from different coaches. I just want to get the best out of myself. If anybody has got any feedback I’m going to take it on board.”
Before the All Blacks come the Samoans, who gave Scotland an almighty fright in their last meeting during the World Cup pool stage in Newcastle two years ago. The Scots eventually prevailed 36-33 to make the quarter-finals but Hogg admitted there were lessons to be learned from that game.
“Yes, how loose we were in attack. We didn’t respect the ball enough,” he said. “We coughed it up too many times.
“They had absolutely nothing to lose in that game. They weren’t going to qualify. They were just chucking it about left, right and centre. We’ve learned a lot from that. You get teams like that, Fiji and Samoa, they’re all the same.
“They like to play expansive rugby and look for the offloading game. We need to look after the ball in our attack and take our opportunities when they’re up for grabs.”