Will Stuart Hogg’s Lions tour be a wasted opportunity?

When Stuart Hogg was announced as a British and Irish Lion by Andy Irvine on April 30, fans both of a Scottish and neutral persuasion would have been right in thinking the 20-year-old had been included thanks to his displays in this year’s RBS 6 Nations.

The Glasgow Warriors full-back was in scintillating form in the opening two matches against England and Italy in particular and had secured the 15 shirt for Scotland by the end of the tournament as well as offering a much needed ray of light in terms of attacking rugby.

It is therefore disappointing to see Hogg’s talents being wasted on this Lions tour. Many, myself included, believed Hogg – albeit behind Leigh Halfpenny in the pecking order – could have provided a serious challenge for the 15 jersey given the opportunity.

Hogg has had two chances at 15 so far; one against the Barbarians and then the Queensland Reds. His performance in the former saw him draw plaudits while he wobbled at times against the Reds.

But his last two appearances have been as a makeshift fly-half against the Combined Country XV, where he scored a try and put in an accomplished performance for someone playing 10 for the first time since school, and then in yesterday’s Brumbies game where he found the going much tougher.

Clearly Gatland’s use of Hogg at 10 is a direct consequence of Jonny Wilkinson refusing the New Zealander’s call. It is now well known that Wilkinson was meant to be the squad’s 38th member but because he said no and then subsequently became injured, Hogg has found himself plugging the gap at 10 without the chance to showcase his skill in his natural position at 15.

Hogg offers something completely different at full-back to either Halfpenny or Rob Kearney. The Scot is not as safe under the high ball as his two compatriots but his superior pace and ability to slice defences open and ‘have a go’ when in space should have been given more of a chance to shine.

One could argue that Hogg’s two starts at full-back have given him as much opportunity as any other squad member and he has simply not played as well as he could have, but to be pitched in against the Brumbies yesterday tasked with orchestrating a back-line which had met only 24 hours earlier, for only the second time in your senior career, is asking too much of a 20-year-old.

Another Scot, Greig Laidlaw, may be sitting in South Africa wondering if Gatland should in fact have asked for his number considering the current lack of depth at fly-half.

Hopefully Hogg will get another go at 15 and play some part in the Test series. The experience of being on tour will no doubt stand him in good stead but will he come back more confused as to where he should be playing?

And an added fear is that the Scotland management play around with him like they did with Chris Paterson and never fully exploit Hogg’s talent in his best position.

At such a young age, Hogg deserves a huge amount of credit for his performances on the 2013 tour so far. Let us hope it is not in vain and he returns a winning Lion.

By Tom Macleod (@TMacSport)

18 thoughts on “Will Stuart Hogg’s Lions tour be a wasted opportunity?

  1. I’d say the opposite – 1/2p is nailed on as FB. Hogg would have to have played at a level he’d never even been near before to displace 1/2p and also develop a kicking ability to rival JW.

    So his only chance of making the test squad is to show he can cover more than one position. Wings are sorted, as are centres. So I think it was a lucky break for him that he could be considered a FH replacement and hence possibly make the bench for that. As it is he won’t and unless 1/2p .. Actually, I won’t finish at sentence, don’t want to jinx things.

  2. Hogg is a great player, but a prime Christian Cullen would have a hard time dislodging 1/2p at the moment. He’s not realistically challenging for the 15 shirt (assuming no more injuries) and I don’t think playing more games at 15 would have altered this. His first outing at 10 did raise questions whether he could cover the test 22 shirt (as well as the 23), given that performance it wasn’t unreasonable to give him another go to find out. Unfortunately his pack let him down and left him cruelly exposed as a talented but novice 10.

    1. Completely understand what your saying Matt, 11/2p is playing class but I think a prime Christian Cullen could dislodge anyone!

        1. Prime Cullen was such a short lived thing though due to his injury. I only ever saw him in the flesh playing for Munster and failed to convince my son, who was not old enough to have seen him play for the ABs, that he wasn’t the worst FB he’d seen, and my son has seen Ian Balshaw play.

          1. 56 tries in 85 games for the Hurricanes
            46 tries in 58 caps for the ABs

            Hardly a flash in the pan! Do I recall you saying your son plays 15? If so a trip to YouTube may be required!

          2. That is a massively pointless but maybe quite fun discussion. Who in the professional era could oust halfpenny atm. assuming all are in the form of their life as halfpenny seems to be, cullen, robinson, latham, medard? any thoughts?

          3. If 1/2p was also in as the goal kicker then he shades them all. Plus it’s easier to move the lightning guys like Robinsaon, Cullen or Howlett (don’t forget him!) to the wing.

            If Dan Carter or JW is kicking goals then I can’t look past Cullen. When it seemed Lomu was the proto-player for the professional era he blasted onto the scene. Magic!

  3. I feel very disappointed for Hogg as I am also for Wade, Twelvetrees, Williams and Barritt. It was unfair to ask these players to “fill-in” to protect Gatland’s first choices. In each case it has probably tarnished their reputations and in the case of some it may well have damaged their confidence. I would think that Lancaster might well regret giving his blessing to The English players after the disappointment of the Lions team performance against the Brumbies .

    1. I don’t understand that Roy. They’re not there to protect Gat’s faves, they’re there to play as we need cover and they are not as good as the 1st choice picks. To take your idea to its logical conclusion would mean that nobody should go on the tour unless Gats assures them they are equally as good as player X who everyone knows is the best player in his position. So Farrell wouldn’t have gone for starters. Then add Hogg, Matt Stevens, Rory Best, Maitland.

      If their confidence cannot take being told “you are not the best player in your position in the British Isles” (not even told, just indicated by not being selected) then they’re in the wrong career anyway. And it certainly has not damaged their reps as everyone knows the circumstances and what they were up against.

      1. Being called in from all parts of the world at the last second sounds like “filling-in” to me.

        1. the only player who has actually been told he is “fill-in” was Williams. he was playing for 1 match to keep people fresh.

          All the other players are not full members of the lions. they are in for as big a shout as the others if they can perform.

          36 and Barritt were needed, as their would have only been 2 fit centres to play in the brumbies AND first test. therefore we needed 2 centres. similarly, with North and Bowe having picked up knocks, Wade was required as cover. Williams on the other hand (and it has been openly admitted) was called in to make sure that Zebo, Maitland and Cuthbert were all kept as fresh as possible. had north not recovered in time, then the 2 wing spots would have been spread between these 3.

          so their reputation may be slightly knocked, oh well. and to be truthful, the real reputation assassinations have been aimed at the tight 5. most people have admitted that no backs could have done well with that type of ball.

          Lancaster will be happy that his players will be with the lions. After all, they are now training shoulder to shoulder with the likes of O’Driscoll and O’Connell – 2 greats of the modern era. not to mention other outstanding players like 1/2p, Adam Jones who have are some of the world’s best. Plus they get time being coached by guys like Jenkins and Howley. i am sure Howley’s influence will improve Ben Youngs, and similarly, Jenks will work closely with people like Farrell and 12Ts for the kicking and more.

          Lets not forget, Gatland is one of the world’s best coaches, and he (a former hooker i believe) is working closely with Tom Youngs.

          SL will be nothing but pleased that he has a fair amount of players on the tour. after all, i really dont think any of the englishmen will come back worse off. none of them (so far) have experienced any sort of meltdown to the levels that Rory Best did – his performance will worry Irish fans, they must hope he shrugs it off and keeps confident.

          Brighty, Roy said first choices, not “Favs”. no one is actually suggesting bias here, just simply stating that Gatland will have primary choices (as all coaches must, otherwise you will never pick a XV). Being a favourite and being a first choice are slightly different.

    2. We lost a game by 2 points despite getting stuffed at the breakdown and giving away 50% of our lineout possession. Of course the backs will be disappointed they couldn’t show what they can do, but the accountability for the loss doesn’t lie with them. Hopefully we’ll see some redemption against the Rebels next week.

  4. Realistically Hogg is not going to displace 1/2Penny with the Welshman showing this kind of form on tour. Neither will Kearney for that matter.

    Hogg did alright (no better) vs Combined Country, but to select him at 10 vs Brumbies just made no sense at all, particularly with that makeshift backline outside him.

    Gatland should have brought a third alternative even after JW turned down the opportunity. Ian Madigan could have been with the squad from the squad outset in my view.

    I hope for the sake of Scotland that their management don’t mess Hogg about, he is an excellent 15. Let him develop there and you will have a world class threat.

  5. Feel a bit for Hogg. But as Brighty says, there’s no way he’s replacing Ha’penny

    Really cannot understand why Gatland has not called up another fly-half. Is he just unwilling to admit that he made a mistake in the first place?

    Its not that there aren’t quite a few who could do a job for the Lions – Flood, Madigan, Burns, Laidlaw, Priestland, Biggar. Even Ronan O’Bloody Gara would have done for chrissakes

    Anyone of those could have been called up rather than say, Barritt, and most of them could have covered centre as well

    Idiotic selection strategy from Gatland to date

  6. Hogg comes across as a young guy with bags of self belief, so I don’t think this will do much to dent his confidence.

    Nevertheless, I’d question the wisdom of trying him at 10 with a back line that had such short prep time together and a pack that struggled to get any go forward. Mind you Gatland et. al. would have expected the pack to do better and provide a better platform for the backs.

    I can’t understand why Gatland did not take Leinster’s Iain Madigan who has consistently put in great performances for them at 10 and can also cover a number of other positions in the backs. Given the number of bodies Gatland has now flown in there would be no loss of face for him to have put the call out to bring Madigan or even Dan Bigger over.

    At Glasgow Warriors, Hogg is not even the stand-by fly half. They will on occasion play him at centre but not at fly half. I’m not a great fan of him at centre as he more often than not runs up a blind ally and does not have the physicality to break the line or hold the ball up to let others join him and form a driving maul. In other words, at this point in his rugby career his decision making is better when he has a little more time and full back gives him that.

    Since around the time of the 6 Nations both Scotland and Glasgow have been working on developing his place kicking, and in the later part for the Rabo Pro 12 season he took on some of the longer range kicking duties for the Warriors. So there’s no surprise that his place kicking stats are not up there with 1/2p, who is a world class kicker.

  7. I agree with the artcile, no doubt halphpenny is the starting 15, but Hogg could have offered somehting different off the bench, with the wing problme we have at the moment I would have prefered to see him tested on the wing than at 10, he has the pace and can see a gap.

    I still think he has a chance of making the bench for his flexability if nothing else. I think it will be him or Maitland on the bench as a back three replacement.

  8. i think they missed a trick a bit with Hogg, especially given the wing crisis (as Ronbraz said above)

    Hogg has played 15, wing and 13 for Glasgow, which means we can safely assume he is comfortable in all of these spots. we have seen him have a mixed bag at 10 for the lions, but with a decent pack, its another potential position he could play (not in a lions test, but in time maybe for Glasgow and possibly scotland).

    the thing is, the lions seem to have decided Hogg will only run out in the 10 or 15 positions, and i think that this is narrow minded of them. his pace and finishing means he could have covered wing. his handling ability and pace also means he could have been a threat at 13 (early on he threw a pass to Williams that was outstanding – drew defenders out for the intercept, but it got to williams and sent him down the line)

    I think that a 3rd 10 should have toured, or at least been called up – i know wilko was unavailable, but we could have seen plenty of options called in – and Hogg should have been used more as an outside back, as this is where he is more likely to contest for a test spot. He has always been unlikely to beat 1/2p to the 15 shirt, but he could have staked a claim for a wing spot, or definitely the 23 shirt.

    the lack of playing him on the wing has meant that he is seen as only a 10/15 option, and with Sexton and Farrell having 10 sorted, you doubt he would come on for 1/2p unless an injury happens. therefore the chances are, they will go for someone else on the bench, who can more likely cover the wing and other positions if an injury occurs.

    all in all, i dont think it will be a wasted tour for Hogg. we have learnt that he has a good kick from hand, pretty decent off the tee, great pace, pretty decent hands. all in all, i think that scotland should start to consider him as a possible option at 10, after development. i do think he may struggle to get too much time there for glasgow, as they have Jackson and Weir, but neither have really shown the goods for Scotland yet.

    Moving Hogg to 10 could mean shifting Maitland back to 15 for Scotland. in which case they could have a back 3 of Visser, Maitland and Lamont. Centres of Scott and Dunbar. Murchie and Horne around too. Laidlaw and Pyrgos to play 9. Hogg at 10 could fit in nicely. Plus we know that laidlaw would do most of the kicking anyway. I also think that Laidlaw would be a good halfback partner for Hogg. Laidlaw is a bit like a french 9, in that he tends to run the game. this takes pressure off the 10, and allows them a bit more free reign. with time, Hogg could be a revelation at 10 for scotland.

    all in all, it definitely isnt a wasted tour. even if he ends up not moving to 10, he has still gained huge amounts of experience and trained with some great players/coaches (i am sure Jenks will have helped him a lot). he will come back a better player.

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