Hogg steals limelight in bid to outflank Samoans

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The Independent Online

"Is that right?" Hogg asked, fresh from a forwards session on the back pitches at Murrayfield, complete with bloodied upper lip. "It's nice to get to 20. When you're a kid, you always want to play for your country, represent them just that once. But playing 20 times is an honour. I just wish I'd won a few more games."

Indeed. Hogg has appeared in all 19 Tests Scotland have played since the 2003 World Cup: the 17 matches of Matt Williams's ill-fated tenure as national coach and the two with Frank Hadden as first caretaker, then full-time head coach. There have been just the four victories - against Samoa, Japan, Italy and Romania - although the chances are there will be a fifth today.

The efficiently structured, attack-minded play introduced by Hadden took Scotland to within eight minutes of victory against Argentina at Murrayfield eight days ago, before the yellow-carding of Simon Taylor and a contentious penalty try condemned them to a 23-19 defeat. Yet it was a hugely encouraging performance - not least by Hogg, who made his mark in last year's autumn internationals and who has been fulfilling that potential with Edinburgh this season.

"I think we'll learn from last Saturday," Hogg reflected. "The game was there for the taking. We're bitterly disappointed about that. But we can right a few wrongs this weekend. We can take the positives out of the Argentina game and turn the negatives into positives for the game against Samoa.

"I think everyone who was there last Saturday could see we were out there enjoying the way we play. It was good to see us on the front foot for a change. I think the fans really appreciated that and got behind us. Although there were only 15,000 there, they made a massive noise."

Scotland's 67,500 capacity home is unlikely to be any fuller today, when Hogg and Co prepare for the visit of the All Blacks next Saturday against an inexperienced Samoa coached by Michael Jones, a Rolls-Royce of a flanker in his playing days. Not that Scotland's young Gunner of an openside saw the great All Black purring in top gear.

"Sorry, I'm a bit young to remember that," Hogg said of the native Samoan who refused to play on Sundays throughout his distinguished career and who will leave the direct coaching to others while taking a back seat in the stands. "I know he's got some dangerous players, though, in Semo Sititi and Tanner Vili."

Sititi, who captains Samoa from the blindside flank today, has settled happily back in Scotland with the Borders after a disappointing season in the English Premiership with Newcastle Falcons. He named his son Wallace after visiting the William Wallace statue near his Galashiels home.

Hogg, who hails from Stirling, home of the National Wallace Monument, has some way to go before he might be considered a national superhero - although he did have 14,491 of his countrymen on their feet last Saturday with his blitzkrieg running in open play. A borderline video- referee call denied him a fifth international try - the first since he charged down Elton Flatley's kick and beat Matt Giteau to the line at Hampden Park a year ago. But he forged a highly formidable back-row partnership in tandem with Taylor and Jason White, the new Scotland captain.

Hogg has played in all three back-row positions for Scotland. He also played basketball for his country - like Scott Murray before him, as an Under-16. "I got in the Under-18 squad, too, but then I had to choose between rugby and basketball," Hogg said. "I chose rugby and luckily it's worked out not too bad so far."

Indeed not. A win against Samoa, and something less than a basketball score against the All Blacks, and Scotland and their outstanding openside will have reason to be jumping for joy.

MURRAYFIELD LINE-UPS

Scotland

15 C Paterson (Edinburgh)

14 R Lamont (Glasgow)

13 M Di Rollo (Edinburgh)

12 A Henderson (Glasgow)

11 S Lamont (Northampton)

10 D Parks (Glasgow)

9 C Cusiter (Borders)

1 A Jacobsen (Edinburgh)

2 S Lawson (Glasgow)

3 C Smith (Edinburgh)

4 C Hamilton (Glasgow)

5 S Murray (Edinburgh)

6 J White (Sale, capt)

8 S Taylor (Edinburgh)

7 A Hogg (Edinburgh)

Replacements: 16 D Hall (Edinburgh); 17 G Kerr (Leeds); 18 A Kellock (Edinburgh); 19 K Brown (Borders) ; 20 M Blair (Edinburgh); 21 P Godman (Edinburgh); 22 H Southwell (Edinburgh)

Samoa

15 R Warren (Cardiff)

14 L Faatau (Marist)

13 Anitelea Tuilagi (Leicester)

12 E Fuimaono-Sapolu (Auckland Uni)

11 Alesana Tuilagi (Leicester)

10 T Vili (Kintetsu Liners, Japan)

9 G Cowley (Bay of Plenty)

1 J Va'a (Upper Hutt)

2 M Schwalger (Wellington)

3 C Johnston (Eltham-Kaponga)

4 D Leo (Sunny Bay)

5 J Faamatuainu (Auckland)

6 S Sititi (Borders, capt)

8 D Farani (Petone)

7 I Taina (Vaimoso)

Replacements: 16 L Tafunai (Vaiala); 17 K Lealamanua (Biarritz); 18 L Lafaialaii (Bayonne); 19 PTupai (Rangarui Tupoke); 20 N Tauafao (Maile Sharks); 21 August Collins (Petone); 22 S Tagicakibau (Waikato)

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland)

Kick-off: 3pm. Highlights: BBC2 5pm

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