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)