WHEN Stuart Hogg came off the pitch with 17 minutes still to go of Scotland’s defeat to South Africa at Murrayfield on Saturday evening, nursing the same ankle as had kept him out for almost two months leading up to this Autumn Test series, it was inevitable that supporters would agonise over the severity of the issue.
The full-back has had a torrid couple of seasons with injury and that, allied with the fact that he returned from his most recent setback ahead of schedule, means that there is a tendency towards getting over-anxious about any hint of further trouble.
It is beyond comprehension that national head coach Gregor Townsend or the Scotland medical team would have rushed the 26-year-old back before he was absolutely ready, but modern professional rugby is a brutal, physical game and players are walking a perpetual tightrope when it come to keeping themselves match-fit.
The good news for Scotland fans is that Hogg insists that he is absolutely fine and is determined to be involved again this weekend, when Argentina provide the opposition at Murrayfield. The dejected figure he cut at the side of the pitch during that final quarter at the weekend reflected more his boyish enthusiasm for being involved in every minute of every game rather than any concern about facing another prolonged spell on the side-lines.
“The problem was that last season I was injured for seven out of ten months, and I just want to be playing rugby at every single opportunity,” he explained. “But the beauty of the last couple of years is that I’ve learned a hell of a lot about my body and its come to the situation now that I do realise what has to be done.
“I’m not as young as I used to be”
“I used to be able to go out and ping drop-goals in the warm-up for fun, but nowadays I’d probably pull my hamstring off the bone! So, it is about looking after the body and making sure I am in the best possible place to train well and play well.
“Doc Robson and Gregor made the call [on Saturday] and I respect their decision, but the game was just starting to open up a little bit so it is frustrating that these things happen,” he continued. “It is just part and parcel of playing rugby that you pick up these little niggles every now and then.
“I just rolled my bad ankle, got it caught in a tackle. It was a little bit achy but nothing I haven’t had before. I tried to hide for a while but then they kicked it straight to me. It feels grand today and I’m just ready to crack on with a new week.
“I think it was because it was the ankle I had surgery on it was a little bit of a concern,” he continued. “But its feeling fine. It’s just an unfortunate thing that it got caught in a tackle with big buggers lying on top of me. These things happen, and I think if that hadn’t happened I would have potentially played 80 minutes.”
“I think that was due to the fact that against Fiji we had no idea what they were going to bring whereas against South Africa we knew exactly their game-plan – they were going to kick a lot and as a back-three we were going to get a lot of ball to try and counter-attack,” he reflected.
“I felt a bit better at the weekend, I was happier with the way I played, I’m just very much looking forward to Argentina now.
“They’ve got some terrific individual players and play well collectively as well. They’ve had a couple of cracking wins in the Rugby Championship, so we are fully aware of the challenges which are going to be coming our way. So, today is about getting the review done from the South Africa game, and starting to look ahead to Argentina and what should be another cracking Test match.
We’ll analyse them – their strengths and weaknesses – their offloading game – but we pride ourselves on having a cracking defence, so we’ll look to get up in their faces and smash them at every opportunity possible. And hopefully get good turnover attack on the back of that.”
It will be interesting to see whether Townsend shares that enthusiasm for the idea of deploying his most influential player from the start for a third consecutive week so soon after he has come back from injury, especially given the need to build depth in his squad ahead of next year’s World Cup (there is now only ten games to go).
Hogg has played in 64 of Scotland’s 79 games since he made his debut off the bench against Wales in Cardiff during the 2012 Six Nations, and that first match was the only one off the bench.
More pertinently, since the start of the 2015 World Cup, he has missed only six out of 37 Test matches – three during the summer of 2017 when he was with the Lions, the Australia game last November when he succumbed to a hip injury before kick-off, Canada back in June and Wales at the start of this Autumn series – which means Scotland are not very used to being without their talismanic number 15, and anyone coming in at the moment will be seriously lacking time in the saddle in that particular position.
Edinburgh’s Blair Kinghorn appears to be the next cab off the rank, having started there against both Canada and Wales, so will Townsend be tempted to give the 21-year-old another run-out?
Kolisi dodges a bullet?
Meanwhile, the citing commissioner from Saturday’s match ruled yesterday morning that South African captain Siya Kolisi should not face a disciplinary panel over the incident in which he appeared to jerk his head backwards into Peter Horne during a minor scuffle on the floor, on this basis of “mitigating factors which meant that the action did not meet the red card threshold, including the player being illegally prevented from re-joining the play by Scotland’s Peter Horne and the moderate force of the strike to the side of the head”.
Kolisi received a warning instead and the incident will form part of his disciplinary record. Hogg’s frustration, however, was directed towards the match Televeision Match Official (TMO) who did not pick up the incident at the time.
“These things happen but you do question what the TMO is doing,” he said. “He can have a look at it three, four or as many times as he wants. The fortunate thing is we got a good outcome on the back of that phase of play so we didn’t necessarily look back at it.
“Pete is a hard bugger who just got on with it. He didn’t whinge about it. We’ve all seen it back now and everyone has got their own views, and mine and no different to anyone else’s.
“I asked Pete: ‘Was that a legit headbutt?’ He felt he was headbutted. It’s happened and we can’t do anything about it now. We just have to move on.
“Player welfare is massive and World Rugby are trying to ensure we are in the safest possible place. I just think there is a severe lack of consistency in all levels of the game now but … look … World Rugby will look at that, they’re in charge.”