Stuart Hogg might be one of rugby’s premier entertainers but as Scotland captain he doesn’t care if the national team wins ugly – he just wants more wins.
Hogg reaches the end of his first year as Scotland captain and the significant milestone of his 80th cap in the final Autumn Nations Cup match against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin – precisely where they began the journey on the first day of February, eight games ago.
The defeat in that game by a single score still rankles – and Hogg is still having to answer questions about dropping the ball over the line in that game. But despite the criticism of the general standard of play in the autumn, he’d be perfectly happy with a 6-3 win.
“We know how we can play and we want to play an exciting brand of rugby,” he said. “But it’s all about doing the simple things well and making sure but you’re playing rugby in the right areas.
“We want to play an exciting brand of rugby, but there is a time and a place: sometimes it will be on to stick the ball up the jumper.
“Usually comes down to the weather. If the weather is shocking (it was in Dublin yesterday) it is sometimes better to be without the ball and just defend.
“We’ve all been involved in games that were hugely exciting with people making line breaks and scoring tries for fun.
‘Sometimes we haven’t won those games’
“But sometimes we haven’t won those games. Sometimes you have to win ugly.”
“It’s all about who doesn’t crack first. It’s about doing the basic things time and time again and making sure we are winning.
“I honestly don’t care how we win. If we win 6-3 I will be happy with that.”
Scotland haven’t won in Dublin since 2010, but the team recently ended an 18-year run of losses in Wales and that’s given them confidence, he continued.
“We had targeted that Wales game prior to lockdown,” he said. “I honestly believe that we would have gone down to Cardiff and won then, so a big message going into the Wales game was if we thought that then, why not now?
“The big thing for us from that game is that it gives us a lot of confidence and belief moving forward. It’s allowed the boys to relax a bit and express themselves a bit more, which is what we want.”
‘Ireland have picked definitely their best 15’
Although under heavy pressure and criticism from their own media and fans after the less-than-impressive performance against Georgia, Ireland are much better than a wounded Wales were at Llanelli at the start of last month.
“They have possibly picked their best 23 and definitely their best 15, so that’s a challenge in itself,” said Hogg. “But we want to take on the best Irish team possible because we believe we can beat their best.
“A huge part of the game that let us down in February was our breakdown work. We left ourselves short a few times and got turned over at crucial moments in the game.
“That’s something we’ve looked at since then. If we get our breakdown right and defend really well, we take our opportunities when they’re on offer, we give ourselves every chance of winning.”
And for Hogg that would be real reward for the sacrifices made during this odd period, the team effectively “on tour” at home and isolated in the bubble at Oriam.
‘Some of the boys haven’t seen their families for five weeks’
“We’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices over the last seven or eight weeks,” he continued. “Some of the boys haven’t seen their families for over five weeks, and (scrum coach) Pieter de Villiers hasn’t been home for over two months.
“So we’ve made a lot of sacrifices ad we want to finish on a high. This group has bonded well off the field and we’ve talked about how we’ve become a family in our own little bubble.
“We’re still on a journey. We’re coming off the back of a World Cup that didn’t go to plan, and a lot of experience retired after that World Cup, which has given opportunities to guys like Jaco (van der Walt) this week.
“He’s been absolutely brilliant. I’ve never come across him until he came into camp last week, but we’ve bonded really well.
“I’ve loved his energy, he’s worked really hard, and he chases perfection. I’m excited to see how he goes. He’s asked questions at the right time and driven us around the field in a good way this week, so hopefully he can do the same at the Aviva.”
That kind of spirit has been what Hogg has enjoyed most about his first year as captain.
“I’ve just loved the group energy that we’ve brought on a daily basis – the willingness to learn and get better,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of fun on and off the field and it’s just a pleasure to be a part of it.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I’m still learning all the time. The biggest thing for me is that I’ve enjoyed it.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to play in a Scotland jersey and to lead these boys, and hopefully it can continue.”
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