Rugby

Scotland's Stuart Hogg looks ahead to rematch with Brave Blossoms

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg admits the autumn heat in Japan could hamper his team’s chances of claiming a Rugby World Cup quarterfinal spot at the host nation’s expense later this year.

But he also warns that the Scots are quick learners.

“We played Japan in 2016 and it was incredibly hot and humid,” Hogg told The Japan Times this week in his role as ambassador for Land Rover, the official vehicle of Rugby World Cup 2019.

“Especially for the boys with the ginger skin like myself,” he said. “It’s going to be tough but it’s going to be the same for everybody. It will be about who can overcome and adapt the quickest.”

Scotland has been drawn alongside Japan, Ireland, Samoa and Russia in Pool A for the Sept. 20-Nov. 2 Rugby World Cup. The Scots have enjoyed success against Japan in recent years and beat the Brave Blossoms twice in a two-test series in June 2016 in Tokyo and Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, less than a year after crushing them 45-10 at the Rugby World Cup in England.

The 2015 result helped Scotland qualify for the quarterfinals alongside South Africa at Japan’s expense, despite the Brave Blossoms having won three out of four pool-stage games. Hogg is well aware, however, that the two teams will start with a fresh slate when they meet again in Yokohama on Oct. 13.

“You can look at it and say that we’ve been over there and won a couple of times, but every single test match is completely different,” he said. “Here’s hoping that on the day we play Japan, we really step up and take it to them.

“We’re fully aware of how good they are,” he said. “It’s always a different beast taking on a team in their home country, and I think they’ll be even better with the experience they’ve had over the past few years.”

The 26-year-old Hogg will be playing at his second World Cup, and has already racked up 67 caps for his country and was named Six Nations player of the tournament in both 2016 and 2017. He was also part of the British and Irish Lions squads for their 2013 and 2017 tours.

Hogg will move to Exeter Chiefs once the World Cup is over, after a successful nine-year club career with Glasgow Warriors, with whom he won the Pro12 title in 2015. Having struggled with injuries in recent years, he is hoping to show the world what he can do in Japan.

“I feel like I’m in good shape,” he said. “I’ve not played a lot of rugby over the last couple of years due to a number of different injuries, but I feel like I’m in a good place physically. In terms of form, you can always learn and improve and be better. If I can get a good preseason and a good run of games, then hopefully I can get some form going into the World Cup.

“We’ve got a good squad to pick from,” he said. “The main thing is that we learn from what we’ve done in the past. We’re fortunate enough to have a good, fit squad right now, with a lot of experience coming back in and a lot of youngsters making the step up. It’s an exciting time for Scottish rugby.”

The Scots will certainly be hoping for a happier outcome to their World Cup campaign than four years ago. Then, Scotland matched Australia all the way in a tumultuous quarterfinal at Twickenham, only to lose 35-34 thanks to a highly debatable last-minute penalty.

Referee Craig Joubert then compounded the Scots’ frustration by ignoring their protests and sprinting off the pitch immediately after blowing the final whistle, but Hogg believes he and his teammates cannot afford to carry any bitterness into this year’s tournament.

“We can’t dwell on that now,” he said. “That was four years ago now and we’re not going to get that game back. We’re never going to be able to change that decision. As much as it hurts, it’s in the past and we’ve just got to move on and make sure that we can get ourselves into that position again.”

Hogg has not always adopted such a mature attitude. Earlier in his career, he fell out with then-Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend after trying to maneuver his way out of the club. Townsend is now Scotland head coach, but Hogg insists they have long since patched things up and he will be “listening to him and learning from him throughout the next few months.”

How far that takes Scotland at the World Cup remains to be seen, but Hogg is not about to give up without a fight.

“It will be tough but you wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “If you want to achieve something special, you have to work hard. It’s not going to be given to you on a plate. We’re fully aware of how tough it’s going to be but we’re excited.”

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