STUART HOGG still doesn’t know whether he will get any game time at club level before the start of the Six Nations. The full-back has recovered from the hip flexor injury he picked up during the warm-up to Scotland’s November clash against Australia two months ago, but a foot problem kept him out of last weekend’s defeat to Leinster.
He was named in Gregor Townsend’s 40-man Scotland training squad on Tuesday and the national coach said he wouldn’t be unduly concerned about Hogg going into the tournament with no competitive game time under his belt – but it would undoubtedly be better if he got some sort of run out for Glasgow Warriors against Exeter Chiefs on Saturday, which will be his last chance to play before Scotland take on Wales on the 3rd February.
The 25-year-old took a full part in Glasgow Warriors training yesterday, but assistant coach Jason O’Halloran said that his availability for Saturday will depend on how the week progresses.
“He ran really well, we are really pleased with that. The key will be him getting through some contact work tomorrow – we did not do a lot of contact today – and also how the foot/hip bear up after doing a lot of running on a pretty firm surface today. How he recovers and gets through contact will be key for selection,” said the coach.
“Unless he turns up really, really stiff tomorrow or bangs his shoulder and gets a bit sore in contact tomorrow, I would imagine he will be fit for selection.”
Hogg is the first to admit that he is an impatient patient, and a combination of his time out being elongated by his recent foot problem and the fact that the start of the Six Nations is looming into view at a rapid rate will have done little to dampen his sense of agitation at being stuck on the side-lines.
“He’s been an absolute menace, to be honest,” chuckled O’Halloran. “He was sparking at me three weeks ago: ‘I’m good to go, I’m good to go’. And I’m saying: ‘That’s not what the physios say’. But I love that attitude, you want guys who are keen to get on the field as quickly as possible.”
“Even watching him at training today, he brings a bit of zest and zeal to others around him, which is crucial given the disappointing result last week.”
O’Halloran added that a few other senior players are also in the frame to make a comeback this weekend.
“Tommy [Seymour] is a chance for sure, but we have some guys playing well on the wing; Lee Jones has been outstanding throughout the year. [Leonardo] Sarto has had a couple of knocks with his shoulder and is another who could come into consideration. There are a number of options depending on who we decide to select,” he explained.
“Ryan [Wilson] will be a couple of weeks more, to be fair; but Tommy is definitely a chance. We will have to see how he pulls up from today and put him through some contact work tomorrow. Alex Dunbar is another one, potentially. We are hoping to put out a strong team and play well.”
“[It will be good to get] a few established partnerships coming back in at a time when we need to get a bit of confidence. We need to get a win, we don’t want to exit Europe with no wins on the board. We get the benefit of playing at home in the last game against a quality Exeter side that has a lot to play for. It will be a great challenge and give us – a good heads up for when we get to the knockout stages of the PRO14. We need to be able to compete in that kind of environment.”
O’Halloran added: “There is pressure for the players – some need to find form, others to show form, ahead of the Six Nations. Others need to come back from knocks. There is motivation throughout the team to have a quality performance.”
We want to prove that we have learned some lessons from this experience. We have been exposed in some areas but we have talked about the learnings we have taken out of that and how we have managed to change our game to a degree in the PRO14, but we have not really shown true growth in this competition and need to show that against Exeter.
“We need to be strong up front, show that we can defend mauls, can defend pick-and-goes, can show some brutality ourselves and when the time is right play with some width.”
“We need to look after ball better than we are. We are averaging about 18 turnovers a game which is far too many. We need to know when it is on to play with ambition and when you have to tuck it up your sleeve and go through multiple phases.”
“We are a team that tends to score pretty early, either from strikes or the first two or three phases. We need to be able to build through eight, 10, 12 phases to score tries. That is one area.”
“Defensively we need to get our roles right a little bit better. We got exposed from drive and bus plays [last Saturday]. It is just physicality round the edges to defend that pick-and-go that Leinster, Exeter, and those type of teams bring. We have to be more physical, lower and more dominant in those areas.”
MEANWHILE, hooker George Turner has put pen to paper on a two-year contract with the Warriors which will keep him at the club until May 2020. The 25-year-old joined the Scotstoun outfit on loan during the summer after a frustrating start to his professional career with Edinburgh, during which time he managed 11 appearances and just one start in three seasons.
He toured with Scotland in June and was capped twice against Samoa and New Zealand last November. He has played 12 times so far for the Warriors, scoring four tries in the process, and said the decision to commit longer term to the club was a no-brainer.
“It was a lot easier than the initial decision to come to Glasgow – that took a while because I am from Edinburgh – but since I’ve been here it has been ideal, and I just want to stay here and develop further,” he explained.
“The best way to earn and get better is to play, so to get so much more professional rugby under my belt has been huge.”