STUART HOGG WAS determined to make an impact as a British and Irish Lion this summer. So much so that he battered into every tackle bag, ruck and opposition player he came across in training.
Head coach Warren Gatland remarked, “Stuart got a knocked on the knee, a burst eardrum and did something else. He was in the wars.” Gatland had to take him to one side and tell him to ease off. There was no point watching the real action unfold from home.
Hogg may have taken the coach’s advice in training but he hit the ground running on the Lions Tour and, with Rob Kearney hamstrung, looked odds-on for inclusion in the Test squads. Queensland Reds then put up a brutal fight and the 21-year-old was one of the players to suffer after the tight win.
Brought ostensibly as a fullback, Hogg ended up getting more starts at outhalf. With Jonny Wilkinson turning down the chance to travel Hogg was used as back-up for Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell. He began as outhalf against Combined Country in a 64-0 cakewalk. He earned praise from Rob Howley but was never going to budge the established duo.
Another start at outhalf followed in the defeat to Jake White’s Brumbies but many expected Hogg to cover for Leigh Halfpenny on the Lions bench. Sean Maitland jumped the queue and, though the replacements bench was chopped and changed, the Scot never saw Test action.
Nonetheless, the experience of being part of a winning Lions squad, and high-profile exposure on the kicking tee, has seen Hogg return as an all-round threat. In his first game back for Glasgow Warriors, he was given the kicking duties ahead of fellow international Ruairidh Jackson. He knocked over two penalties and a conversion in a 13-12 win over Ulster.
Hogg and Warriors teammate Tommy Seymour tackle Ulster’s Michael Allen. INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Leinster’s primary concern, when they face Warriors at Scotstoun tomorrow, is Hogg’s ability to attack from deep, brush off tackles and deliver tries for his team. He puts some of that down to gaining seven kilograms in muscle in the past two years but credits players like Halfpenny and Kearney as attacking role models. He told TheScore.ie:
In terms of Rob Kearney, he’s somebody I’ve looked up to for years. Since I started playing fullback, he’s one of the players who I watched closely and tried to copy his style a little bit while adding my play in a bit. If I didn’t watch him, in a way, I think, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Kearney starts Friday’s RaboDirect Pro12 clash [7:35pm kick-off] on the bench but is expected to feature at some stage. With Jimmy Gopperth covering the outhalf role astutely, Madigan is again being asked to start as fullback. The duel between the two 15s should prove fascinating. Former Munster player Paul Warwick appreciates Madigan’s ability to excel in various backline positions.
Warwick said, “I played for Stade Francais against Ian in the Challenge Cup final last year. He started at [inside centre] and had a great game. I know, from sitting behind ROG [Ronan O'Gara] how you have to take each chance when it comes.
“Madigan proved that he is ready to play at the highest level and his game has really come on from playing alongside guys like Jonny Sexton, Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll. You don’t get an armchair ride and it brings out the best in you. You can see the confidence he is now playing with.”