New Scotland captain Hogg 'a real asset on and off field'
|USA v Scotland|
|Venue: BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston Date: Sunday, 17 June Kick-off: 02:00 BST|
|Coverage: Watch on BBC One Scotland (repeated ‘as live’ at 10:00 BST) & BBC Sport website; text commentary on BBC Sport website|
Gregor Townsend named two sets of brothers – the Hornes and the Fagersons – in his starting line-up for the United States on the weekend and he’s picked a side that contains seven players who will be starting their first Test match for Scotland.
There are stories throughout his inexperienced team and his choice of captain, Stuart Hogg, is undoubtedly one of them.
Townsend hasn’t spoken much about his past difficulties with Hogg, 25, but in Houston he expanded on what he called some worrying times in their relationship in 2014 when Townsend was Glasgow coach and Hogg, by his own admission, was a player who had lost the run of himself.
In the recent past the full-back has spoken, with a brutal honesty, about how he behaved in that period, how he’d gotten too big for his boots, how he felt he had outgrown Glasgow and wanted to get away from Scotstoun to join Ulster.
‘He loves playing for Scotland, he loves the history’
Townsend managed the situation by dropping his star player. In the run-in to the 2014 Pro12 final, and in the final itself against Leinster in Dublin, Hogg wasn’t even in the squad.
“There was a real worry that he might go and him and I might not have a relationship if that was to happen,” said Townsend. “I felt at the time that we had real potential to have a good relationship, because we’re both from the Borders and both came into the Scotland team at a very young age.
“We all have challenges, especially what he achieved at such a young age – playing for his country at 19, playing for the Lions [in 2013] at 20, 21, playing outstanding rugby.
“He did have some challenges that year. He got red-carded for Scotland [in Wales in the Six Nations] and maybe things weren’t going as well for him after the Lions tour. I could really relate to that. You do come back from a tour like that thinking things have changed.
“I know the decision at that time not to play him in the semi-final and final would have hurt him, definitely. They were not easy decisions but we felt they were the right ones and nobody is more happy than me at the way he responded.
“When he came back for pre-season the slate was clean. He reflected and went, ‘Right, I’m going to make the most of my time as a rugby player’. The next two seasons he was voted Six Nations player of the tournament. We all grow up and mature.
“He’s also had some great life experiences – getting married and having kids – and that changes you too. He loves playing for Scotland, he loves the history – the players that used to play, and the songs, he loves all that aspect, he loves touring. So, he’s a real asset for us on the field but also off the field.”
Hogg becomes Scotland’s fourth captain in as many months, following on from John Barclay (Six Nations captain), Stuart McInally (tour captain who should be fit to start against Argentina next week) and Grant Gilchrist (who captained the side against Canada). It will be Hogg’s 61st cap.
“It’s been great to see how he found a love of the game again,” said Townsend. “To see him back on the training field, first out, last to leave, loving getting his hands on the ball – there’s a joy when you see him playing. I also think that he’s really developed his game.”
Opportunity knocks for rookies
The US, on a run of six victories, should pose Scotland more problems than Canada, particularly in the heat of Houston. Regardless, Townsend goes with one of the most inexperienced half-back combinations in Scotland’s history in Adam Hastings and George Horne.
This is an opportunity for the Glasgow pair. Hastings is trying to put himself in the picture as back-up to Finn Russell while Horne is attempting to move himself higher up the pecking order at scrum-half. Only three of Greig Laidlaw, Ali Price, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Henry Pyrgos and Horne will go to the World Cup. This is Horne’s debut. His campaign starts now.
Lewis Carmichael, an eye-catcher when coming off the bench in Edmonton, is in the second row with Tim Swinson moved to blind-side flanker. Luke Hamilton, with just two caps to his name, is at open-side. For the starting position against Argentina it’s a straight shoot-out between himself and Jamie Ritchie, who showed up well on his debut against Canada.
Matt Fagerson, the 19-year-old brother of prop Zander, wins his first cap at number eight.
“We know that these players in their first starts might not be perfect but I hope they’ll be inspired by the likes of Lewis [Carmichael] who really grabbed his opportunity last week,” said Townsend.
“That’s what we will be saying to them. ‘You’ve earned the right, now just go out and play’.”