Hogg’s First Start

When you get your chance to step up and realise your dream it can flash past. No doubt it is hard to hold on to memories in the heat of international competition.

It would be a blur from start to finish. When did it start? When did it end? After the match you would find out things about yourself you had never known. One game into an international career and you are finding out that an Irish newspaper has uncovered that you are related to the late George Best. You also know you are as fast as he was and capable of a bit of your own magic.

Remember that first carry. It came after you had been on the pitch for fifteen minutes. What did the game mean? It was dedicated to your best mate, Wilco. It meant everything. A race of thoughts flooding in as you try to remember.

It was a blur, and you get to do it all again.

“It will be a dream come true. It is a great opportunity to play to a packed out Murrayfield,” an excited Stuart Hogg tells me.  “All week we have talked combinations and worked with those challenging combinations.

“Some people have given me advice for my first start. I have got my mentors in Max Evans and Jim Renwick. Both have a wealth of experience. Of course it is disappointing for Max to be out injured, and hopefully he will be back sooner rather than later doing what he does best, but he has stuck around to give me advice on what to do and what not to do.

“I can take advice but it is a game and we are there to do a job. The boys see this as a challenge. Come Sunday we will expect that.”

He is in that special position. Hogg is full of youthful exuberance and the kind of natural confidence that can see him burn past British and Irish Lions, but still sit quietly and take advice from others. He knows what he has to do, but he will still listen. “You can visualise stuff in your head,” he continues, talking me through how he wants to start Sunday’s game. “On Sunday it is about seeing if those visions can become a reality.

“We will mix and match. Graeme Morrison and Sean [Lamont] are there to get carries, and I can think about getting there to be second or third receiver. Yes there are things about the French that scare me, but we have looked at their strengths and weaknesses. It is about attacking those weaknesses and using our strength against theirs.

“We are aware of their counter attack. We know that their back three don’t really kick. They have two rapid wingers and a full-back with great awareness. We will want to make them run from deep. We will have to try and exploit the fact they won’t be a kicking team.”

He seems assured. He is told things – possibly lots of little things that may clutter his head if he dedicated too much thought to them – but the Irish pieces and the childhood memories and the family support must all be cleared out when he is in the blur of the game. By the same token he cannot dwell on past misfortunes.

“I was disappointed with how that ‘try’ went,” the Hawick lad ruefully admits. “It would have been the dream debut. There’s always next time. I maybe could have made the pass easier for Nick De Luca by running a different line or I could have made the referee’s mind up for him. If I had that chance again I would go mental when I got over the line. Next time…

“It was a blur. The game was the fastest of my life. Al Kellock said to me after the anthems to play my game. He told me to visualise certain situations. After I finished warm-up it felt like I was straight onto the pitch. Then I got into the game.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

On Sunday, though, it will be that same feeling. Everyone will want the first start, at home, to be special. It will be anyway. Many will be watching the full-back in the build-up. He may be emotional, he may seem perplexed. His heart will be pounding.

In that blur beyond family histories and proud anthems Hogg must have the clarity and the confidence which has seen him selected. He has the ability, that is for sure. When he comes into Rougerie’s line of sight for the first time carrying, or he takes his first high ball, or he makes his first racing cover tackle we will all feel part of Hogg’s blur.

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.