Hogg happy to lighten up after sum­mer of hell

Sunday Herald - - RUGBY -

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

BY STE­WART WEIR

EXCLUSIVE IN­TER­VIEW

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