Stuart Hogg leading Scotland on the field, while Gregor Townsend prepares for Six Nations off it

It was a decision which has helped make Scottish rugby history. One that has propelled Stuart Hogg onto the next level as a rugby player. Now Gregor Townsend is already preparing for more big decisions – ahead of the 2023 World Cup and, more pertinently, next year’s Guinness Six Nations campaign with the visit of England is less than 11 weeks away.

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 22nd November 2021, 11:14 am
Scotland headcoach Gregor Townsend and Stuart Hogg during the Autumn Nations. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

How Townsend will hope, and plan, that his next decisions will be as successful as the one of handing Hogg his country’s captaincy.

Just minutes after his record-setting try against Japan, the head-coach paid a lengthy tribute to the full-back, who moved clear of Ian Smith’s scoring record which has stood for more than three-quarters of a century, and equalled by Tony Stanger in the 1990s."I think the longer he’s been in the role, the more he’s been able to enjoy it. He was really looking forward to getting the opportunity to captain the team. He’s a proud Scot that loves his Scottish rugby history, so he knew what an honour this would be and it’s probably something that he’s wanted to do over the last two or three years,” Townsend said. “You saw the joy on his face. He’s loving his rugby just now.”

Townsend, from Galashiels 20 miles to the north, knows the local pride in Hogg’s hometown of Hawick, both of Smith’s long-standing record and now of Hogg’s own 25-try marker, and his captaincy of the national side.

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Townsend will make preparatory moves head of the 2023 World Cup before turning his attention to England and the Six Nations. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“For a small place in Scotland, it has provided so many players who have played for Scotland,” Townsend said. “It already had the joint record-holder, so to have a winger and a full-back from the same club hold the record together for one week and then for one to go on and break the record which had stood for close to 100 years was fantastic.

“Great for Hawick as well was that Darcy Graham scored another try.”

But it was Hogg who took the headlines, in Hawick, and across the country. Taking on the captaincy almost two years ago now, is paying dividends for the player, and Scotland. Though he is not alone. Scotland have a team of leaders, experienced heads who are developing together and take a collective responsibility on the field while Townsend organises and prepares off it.

He added: "I think the biggest development Stuart has had in his game is how much he plays for others. So as a leader we see how much he brings other people into roles of responsibility and shares that leadership. But I feel the biggest change in the last two years is he puts something on the ball so others can do better.

Gregor Townsend and Finn Russell pre-match during the Autumn Nations Series match between Scotland and Japan at BT Murrayfield. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“He could carry the ball himself or kick and not pass, and he’d still have a great game. But he’s someone that tries to bounce out to a second defender, give them an opportunity to get on ball and his decision-making has improved so much over the last few years.

“He’s allowed others to lead. You can see on the field. Finn [Russell] leads the attack, Hoggy and Ali Price are helping him. For defence, you’ve got Jamie Ritchie, you’ve got Stuart McInally when he comes on. You’ve got Grant Gilchrist with a big say in how we play from a lineout perspective. Zander [Fagerson] is now one of our leaders, so driving the scrum.

“So there are people around him - Chris Harris and Sam Johnson in defence - that he enables to lead. And he can enjoy his rugby as well as enjoying the responsibility and honour of captaining your country.”

Harris was man of the match against Japan, the closing victory of an overall successful and beneficial Autumn series for Scotland.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg at full timeof the Autumn Nations Series match between Scotland and Japan at BT Murrayfield. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Confidence will be taken from the three wins over Tonga, Australia and then Japan – and lessons learned from the bruising defeat to world champions South Africa earlier this month.

Now, Townsend’s priority is the 2022 Guinness Six Nations which, although the other side of Christmas, is not far away – Eddie Jones’ England arrive in Edinburgh at the start of February.

Scotland’s head coach will travel to France looking at hotels and training venues for the World Cup in 2023 before returning to prepare and analyse the series just past on the whole, including Saturday’s success over Japan.

“The pleasing thing for us, as coaches, is we’re able to go and watch our players not just with Glasgow and Edinburgh, but down south too.

"We’ll look to do that again. And we’ll obviously analyse England, who are next up. They are a quality team, they’ve had a certain way of playing over the last couple of years.

“We’ll look at them closely to see if that style of playing has changed.

"But we’ve also developed the power side of our game. We didn’t show it enough against South Africa but, against Japan, our scrum and maul were very good.

“Our work at the breakdown was also very good against Japan – and it had to improve, because it wasn’t good enough against South Africa.

“We’ve just got to make sure that we keep the standards high.

"We did in the two biggest areas against Japan. The players responded and showed that we can be one of the best teams in contact.

He added: “Spending four weeks together, the players learning off each other, learning from us as coaches, the players showing more leadership, all of these things are improving.

“But we know the tests to come in the Six Nations are tougher than ever. The northern hemisphere teams are playing at a really high level. We know it’s going to be another very competitive tournament, a really tough tournament for us.”

Who better to call upon then, for such a tough tournament, than his captain, and Scotland’s all-time leading try scorer? Stuart Hogg, the record breaker.

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