FOR such a ferocious competitor, and voracious collector of tries, Stuart Hogg was remarkably sanguine about his 72nd minute effort which was chalked off by referee Luke Pearce during Scotland’s Six Nation opener against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The full-back collected a poor clearance on halfway and countered with trademark zest, skipping between Luca Bigi and David Sisi, then burning Ian McKinley on the outside on his way to the corner, but Pearce had already blown his whistle for an obstruction by replacement Scotland scrum-half Ali Price on Bigi.
It is questionable as to whether replacement hooker Bigi had any real chance of making the tackle; or that Price had any idea he might be in Bigi’s way, much less changed his running line to block the Italian. But what is done is done, and Hogg was clearly in no mood to dwell on being denied his 20th touchdown in international rugby, which would have edged him ahead of Tommy Seymour as the leading try scorer in the current Scotland team, and behind only Ian Smith, Tony Stanger (both on 24) and Chris Paterson (22) in the all-time chart.
“To be fair to Luke Pearce, he came up after the game and apologised, said he made a mistake,” shrugged Hogg. “It’s the fine margins, it hasn’t been given, so we move on. If he had let it play out, he could have gone back and looked at it through the TMO. But he apologised, he is man enough to admit his mistake. Fair play to him.
“It was a little bit frustrating because I think that would have taken us to 40 points with a conversion, with them on 10 – so it would have made it dead and buried. But the referee is there to do a job, he’s made his decision and he’s never going to change it. We have to move on.”
Ultimately, that chalked off score did not make a material difference to the final outcome, with Italy’s two late tries narrowing the gap to something slightly more respectable for the visitors, but not being enough to really put the Scots under pressure.
You win some, you lose some
Hogg’s ambivalence might also be linked to the fact that the try he was awarded – 15 minutes earlier – was slightly fortuitous, with the 26-year-old managing to hyper-extend his left arm to get his hand to Finn Russell’s grubber kick as it bobbled towards the dead-ball line, although the video evidence available at the time was far from conclusive.
There was a fairly lengthy pause and wry smile while Hogg considered his reply to a question about how certain he was of the legitimacy of that one. “I got enough force on that ball, put it that way,” he eventually replied. “A wee bit lucky but we’ll take it!”
Hogg gave a fairly convincing impression at the time of a man confident that it was a cast-iron score, clambering to his feet and raising a clenched fist to the crowd like a triumphant gladiator. “I was very sure,” he insisted. “I can’t give away my tactics, but I scored it and I knew I did. [Although] when they showed the slo-mo on the big screen, I was getting a bit nervous.”
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 3, 2019
All in all, it was a positive day for Scotland, who now sit proudly atop the Six Nations table on points difference ahead of England and Wales, but their late slump did take some of the shine off a generally positive performance.
Out of the frying-pan and into the fire
With Ireland pitching up at Murrayfield next Saturday desperate to bounce back from their home defeat to England, there is going to have to be a significant step-up from the boys in blue if they are to have any chance of making it two from two.
“We’ve got to be happy scoring 33 points but if we’re being honest we left a lot out there as well, so the conversion rate wasn’t what we wanted it to be,” acknowledged Hogg. “And to concede 20, with 17 of those in the last 10 minutes, is disappointing. We’re still a young squad with a lot of learning to do. That’s a game that will stand us in good stead going forward.
“You’re never going to get the complete performance. It’s good that we can go back to the drawing board, work on that and be ready next week, which is going to be a huge test for us.
“Ireland are a world-class outfit – individually and collectively – so we’ll have to be on the money in defence and make the most of our opportunities in attack.”
Hogg was the game’s top carrier on Saturday with 126 metres gained, largely thanks to his exploitation of some slack kicking from Italy. He is not expecting Ireland to be quite as generous.
‘That’s a strength of mine on the counter-attack, so hopefully I can get some more opportunities to show what I can do, but I know Ireland will pose a different threat with their aerial game,” he concluded. “It will be holy high balls next week. I’m looking forward to it.”