Hogg happy to lighten up after summer of hell
IT is a dull but mild autumnal afternoon at Scotstoun, but Stuart Hogg looks chilled, and not in his usual, laid-back way either. OK, he is sitting in his playing kit in a windy, desolate stand, while a photographer goes about his business, snapping away as the Warriors, Scotland and Lions full-back promotes the club’s latest sponsorship deal.
But, even when released from his modelling duties and indoors, Hoggy still appears numbed.
“Having an iced bath before this maybe wasn’t so clever,” he concedes, rubbing his arms to stave off another shiver.
You would think he would be used to being cold, particularly in a rugby sense, having been frozen out of the game for most of the summer through injury. It was a difficult period for the 25-yearold, who only made his return to Glasgow colours a week ago against Leinster, before playing his part in their Friday night win over the Southern Kings, scoring the first try of the evening.
“It was tough, really tough. I’m not going to lie,” says Hogg, who puffs the cheeks and blows an audible gust of air as he recalls what could and should have been a great tour to New Zealand.
“I felt I’d done everything I could to get there. When we started, it was about getting in that Test team. We played three days after landing, none of the boys played well in the first game, but I felt I was going all right in the Crusaders game, and really starting to gel with the boys, and giving myself every opportunity to be selected for the Test teams, then …” Hogg’s face contorts.
“Then,” was when Hogg, chasing a kick, ran into the raised elbow of his Lions team-mate, Irish scrum-half Conor Murray, resulting in a facial bone fracture that abruptly halted him and his tour.
“These things happen, but for me, it was the dream of playing at the highest level of rugby, gone. To have that snatched away was pretty bleak, and I took a while to get over it, and have all the operations done. I was their No 1 supporter after that, backing them to get the victory.
“But for me it was really challenging and tough and I didn’t enjoy the summer because I felt as if I should have still been in New Zealand, doing a job. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
“All that hard work, over the past four years, growing up a bit, learning about rugby and about myself, had gone. To have that snatched away was a right kick in the nuts.
“And the worst thing was that until the Leinster game, what’s that, late October, I hadn’t played a game. It was bloody frustrating – but this is part and parcel of playing rugby. It was the first time, for me, that I had a long-term injury, but it gave me a chance to do other things off the field that I wouldn’t have been able to do had I been playing and fit.”
Among those “other things”, two stand out; one should assist him shortterm, the other, for when those Warriors, Scotland and Lions labels are prefixed by “former”. Hogg explains the latter.
“I followed Al Kellock [the former Glasgow skipper and now Business Development Manager & Ambassador at the SRU] a fair bit, and learned a lot of what happens on the business side of things in the game, and a wee taste of what might happen for life after rugby.
“Obviously, I hope my career goes on for a good bit, but it was good to see that side of rugby and business. I also got involved in coaching with my brother [Graham] at West of Scotland and enjoying it.
“But I was desperate to be a rugby player again.”
Which is where the other “other thing” comes in to view, literally, given the change in Hogg’s appearance.
“I’ve lost eight or nine kilos – 18lbs roughly in old money. It was after seeing we had the white jerseys again this season,” he laughs.
“I think I enjoyed my holiday a bit too much after I got back from New Zealand. I had a couple of weeks of R & R, indulging myself let’s say, before I had my shoulder operated on.
“At Dunky Weir’s wedding, I had a photo taken with the big box sling on, and I looked a tad on the heavy side. So, I had a look at that ‘photie’ and thought I had better try and make a difference.
“I’d just felt I was a wee bit heavy over the last couple of years, carrying a bit of weight,” says the man from Hawick, who since trimming down, has set speed records at Warriors.
“We had a Scotland camp, and the coaches were asking, what are you going to do to make this your best season ever. So, I just took the decision to shed a few pounds and see if that would make a difference. I’m never going to be the biggest and strongest of fellas, so you want to put yourself in the best position possible.
“And if that means being able to run around people, or being able to sidestep them, then shedding some kilos has helped this far.”
Apart from his Glasgow duties, the short-term focus now for Hogg is the autumn Tests with Scotland. And just over the horizon, more European rugby with the Warriors, with maybe an opportunity to make up for that comeback loss against Leinster.
“There is a big challenge, week after week. It’s why you play rugby,” Hogg admits. “[Scotland coach] Gregor [Townsend] touched on it the other week saying we’re playing the best team in the world [New Zealand] and then the team that beat the best team in the world [Australia].
“It’s a bigger scale. It’s the same with the European Cup. It’s the biggest competition in club rugby you can be involved in. Everyone watches it, so we were bitterly disappointed how the first two weeks went. But you learn from that, just like you learn from everything.”
To have that dream snatched away was pretty bleak
A lighter Stuart