Gregor Townsend will boost Scotland’s expansive game, says Stuart Hogg

Gerard Meagher at Murrayfield
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Scotland’s Stuart Hogg with supporters at the end of the Six Nations match against Italy. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images</span>
Scotland’s Stuart Hogg with supporters at the end of the Six Nations match against Italy. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Stuart Hogg paid a glowing tribute to the departing head coach, Vern Cotter, but believes his replacement, Gregor Townsend, can continue Scotland’s upward trajectory after a Six Nations campaign that featured three victories for the first time in more than a decade.

Townsend takes over at the end of the season in a change that has looked increasingly surprising as the Six Nations has progressed with the New Zealander, now moving to Montpellier, signing off as the only Scotland coach of the professional era with a win ratio better than 50%.

Townsend’s credentials are obvious, however. Hogg was part of the Glasgow side he guided to a first Pro12 title in 2015 while the Warriors have beaten Leicester and Racing 92 home and away this season to reach the Champions Cup quarter‑finals for the first time and, perhaps most significantly, he is Scottish.

“We’ve got a tour of Australia in the summer and, with [Gregor] coming in, the Glasgow boys are fully aware of what he can bring,” Hogg said. “It’s exciting times for Scottish rugby. Much the same to what he brings at Glasgow, we tend to play expansive rugby. Nothing for us really changes from Glasgow to Scotland. Both coaches want us to go out there and play an expansive game and ultimately score tries. It’s an exciting time.

“Vern’s a very passionate guy. He’s put everything into Scotland and you can see how much it means to him. I listened to an interview with him the other day and he’s done a phenomenal job. He’s worked wonders for me and for Scottish rugby and we thank him for absolutely everything that he’s done and he’ll be missed. Montpellier are very lucky to have a coach like that.”

Hogg will almost certainly not be on that tour to Australia, however – the 24-year-old is nailed on for his second tour with the British & Irish Lions, in New Zealand this summer, after another impressive tournament. He scored three tries and was the provider for three of Scotland’s four tries in the 29-0 win against Italy, finished by Matt Scott, Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour. His defence is often questioned but he made two fine tackles early in the second half with Italy threatening in the right-hand corner.

“I’ve been fairly disappointed with the way I’ve defended but you are never the complete player so I’ve worked hard on it and thankfully it came my way,” he said. “But one game isn’t good enough for me. It’s on to the next game.”

While the scoreline may suggest otherwise, Scotland were not quite in top gear and Italy were left to rue three missed penalties from Carlo Canna and a sustained period of pressure after half-time that produced no reward. They have now suffered 12 consecutive Six Nations defeats but Conor O’Shea can take heart from how Cotter turned things round with Scotland after a first campaign ended with five defeats. “I know how far we have to go,” the Italy coach said. “It’s really hurting at the moment but I’m not in it for my ego.

“I’m in it for Italy rugby and to put it in a better place. Hopefully, like Vern a couple of years ago, we can do that. I think Vern came in on the back of a Glasgow team that was beginning to turn the corner and we need to make sure our two franchises turn the corner. I know that we can get to the [2019] World Cup with a team like Argentina had in 1999. If we do that, we’ll have done the biggest favour for Italy rugby and that’s our job. Everybody else has improved and we’ve stood still. But if egos are put into pockets and the national team comes first, we have a chance.”

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