Stuart Hogg and Scott Steele might be a novice half-back pairing for Scotland against Italy at Murrayfield, but they have a might have a closer relationship than any Scotland half-backs since Rutherford and Laidlaw.
The captain and the scrum-half were childhood friends – their fathers, both called John, were rugby referees in the Borders – and while Steele has taken a little longer to find his way to the Scotland team, Hogg was a firm believer that he would get there.
‘He’s a bundle of energy’
“He has been absolutely terrific,” said Hogg. “I’m absolutely delighted for him. I’ve known him for a long time through being family friends.
“I’m excited to see the real Scott Steele tomorrow. He’s a bundle of energy, a terrific defender and he loves to get stuck in for someone who is 5ft5in and 60kg or whatever.”
Last summer, Hogg pointed out, Steele didn’t even have a contract, let alone be in line for the Scotland 9 shirt.
“He worked incredibly hard over lockdown to get himself in shape and get himself a club,” added the skipper. “I think he’s been absolutely outstanding for Quins in the games I’ve watched this year.
“Since coming into the Scotland camp he’s had a cap on the wing, another in the back row and he has brought big energy and impact when he has played at nine. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.”
Hogg played 10 all the way up to age 15
Hogg’s own role at 10 will come under massive scrutiny, but it could have been his position full-time but for a wish to play with his mates at rugby camp.
“I played 10 all the way through school and the age-grade stuff,” he said. “It was literally because I went to Struan rugby camp when I was 15, and I just wanted to be on the same team as my pal Stuart Edwards, who was a 10 as well.
“So I changed my position to 13 and that’s how I ended up there.”
‘I enjoy people writing me off’
Hogg switched to 15 when he turned pro with Glasgow and he’s nervous but relishing this challenge.
“I enjoy being out my comfort zone, I like being challenged. I enjoy people writing me off by saying that this could go very, very wrong,” he said.
“I’m not going to prove anything to anybody – I’m going to go and there to do my basics well and make sure I’m driving the team forward.
“But I have a huge amount of confidence about that because Gregor and the coaching staff have handed me the reins. If I wasn’t capable of doing the job then they wouldn’t have given me it.”
Nobody like Finn
He definitely won’t be trying to emulate the usual starter.
“I won’t say I’m anything like Finn Russell, because nobody in the world of rugby is,” he said. “The big thing for me is getting basics right and getting good positions, and allowing us to go forward with momentum.
“Finn has been absolutely tremendous this week. He’s obviously bitterly disappointed that he picked up a head knock and timing wise it has ruled him out. But he’s been there for us all to help with the preparation.
“Finn’s watched a fair amount of rugby for us, he’s analysed training and had suggestions where we can improve.
“He’s been absolutely brilliant and I would expect nothing less from him. He is a world class talent who cares massively about this team.”
Scorelines haven’t reflected how well Italy have played
Hogg added that the team’s effort “had been challenged” in the Ireland game.
“That for me is non-negotiable when you put the Scotland jersey on,” he said. “It all comes back to us being able to do our basics spot on, time and time again. Numbers to the breakdown, appropriate depth in attack and we front up and stay onside in defence.
“That gives us every opportunity to win. If we go out there and chase it too early we could become unstuck.
“The Italians are a very good team. I think the scorelines haven’t reflected how well they have actually played. The like to throw the ball around and they are fairly patient in the way the attack.
“Defensively, we are going to have to make sure we could have good width and try and shut them down.
“The longer these boys are in the game they grow in confidence. It is vital we start this game in the best possible way.”