Stuart Hogg says Scotland’s rugby team want to inspire the nation as much as their football brethren and are gunning for their own record run going into the opening Autumn Nations Cup game against Italy in Florence.
Although the new tournament has hit a hazard already with Fiji’s Covid-19 outbreak causing their game against France in Scotland’s group to be cancelled, the Scots are confident they can make an impact in the tournament and give the same sort of lift their training neighbours did in Belgrade.
“We were absolutely delighted for the football boys,” said Hogg, who was doing his own preparations while watching the game on his laptop at the team hotel in Tuscany, in his case having a relaxing recovery soak in the bath.
“They’ve been around the Oriam for the last few weeks so it’s great to see them succeed. For the nation, what they achieved was massive,” he continued. “A lot of us watched the game and we were absolutely buzzing for it.
“The big thing which hit home was that we are there to inspire the nation and the football boys did exactly that. Now it’s our turn, it’s our turn to inspire the nation.
“It has been a tough year for everybody so if we can play a small part by putting smiles on people’s faces by getting results for everybody then that’s us doing our jobs.
“How good would it be if we were to win here on Saturday? It would cap a great week for Scottish sport and that’s our aim.”
Scotland’s first game against Italy this year – in the Six Nations in February – was a launching pad for the team and for the captain. His blinding try set the Scots on their way to a 17-0 victory, putting behind them a difficult couple of games for him personally against Ireland and England having taken on the captaincy.
The team have hardly looked back, and have won their next four games. A fifth successive win would equal the record since the game went professional, and the all-time record is six wins in a row – done just four times, most recently by the great Grand Slam team of 1990.
“I think a few of the boys would be aware of that record but our message this week is very much to concentrate on ourselves and just do everything we can to make sure we get the win,” continued Hogg.
“We’ve had a good week of preparation and feel in a good place, but to be honest that means absolutely nothing unless we turn up on Saturday.
“You just need to look at this time last year when we were home early from the World Cup having said a lot about doing special things, and to be honest with you we were nowhere good enough, nowhere near our best.
“From my point of view, I looked at myself first and then looked at how we can improve as a team, and I think everybody in the squad has done that.
“I think we were all just playing within ourselves during that period, but now we understand what it means to play for Scotland, what it means to let yourself go – and the boys are enjoying it, that’s the main thing.
“You see it is the smiles on our faces because we’re getting confidence from winning the scrum battle, building driving mauls, line-breaks, whatever it may be. We are enjoying it as individuals and as a team.”
Scotland trained yesterday at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, usually one of Italy’s most fervent arenas when packed with the fans of La Viola – the Fiorentina football team – but like every other game of the moment, absent of fans this weekend.
Hogg is delighted that his long-time friend Duncan Weir will return to the side, even if the circumstances deprive the Scots of Finn Russell and Adam Hastings.
“While we’re gutted for Finn and Adam, Dunky has been a breath of fresh air around the camp to be honest,” said the skipper.
“He’s more relaxed nowadays that he was a few years ago. He comes in with great energy, wanting to learn and improve on a daily basis and to keep the spirits high. But he also understands that he needs to drive us around the field.
“Gregor chatted to him at the start of the autumn to say he wouldn’t hesitate to put him in, he’s been given an opportunity now and hopefully he and his new wig can direct us around the field tomorrow!”