Scotland have very good reason to believe it will be different for them against Italy in the Stade Geoffroy Guichard here tonight than it was on home soil at Murrayfield back in February. For one thing, they have the second most potent player of their latter day squad in their starting XV this time. Aside from Chris Paterson, with his prodigious right boot and his collection of 22 tries, Scotland's most prolific points scorer is not another of their flying three-quarters, Sean Lamont or Simon Webster, but Ally Hogg, their dashing dynamo of an openside flanker.
The Edinburgh back rower is one of seven Scottish starters in tonight's Pool C second-place decider who were playing the role of bystanders when Italy were gifted their first Six Nations win on the road. Three tries and 21 points in the opening seven minutes set up a 37-17 calamity for Caledonia.
Hogg, getting back into the competitive swing of things at the time after recovering from knee ligament damage, watched the horror unfold from a seat on the replacements' bench: Phil Godman having a defensive chip charged down after 18 seconds and Chris Cusiter throwing out two intercept invitations.
"It was unbelievable, sitting there," Hogg reflected. "At 7-0 you thought, 'Right, fair enough.' Then, at 14-0, it's like, 'Hang on a minute...' Then it's 14-0 and you're out of your seat thinking, 'What's going on?' It was a strange, strange feeling. It was just a freak event. I'll be very surprised if it happens again."
Particularly tonight, with a quarter-final spot on the line, with the Scots looking a far more cohesive unit in disposing of Portugal and Romania than Pierre Berbizier's Italians – and with Mike Blair and Dan Parks in the half-back axis, and Hogg, Jason White (who was also missing that day) and Simon Taylor all in place at the back of the pack. At 24, Hogg is the junior partner in the back row trinity, but he is already a veteran of 37 caps. He also has nine tries to his name – just two short of the all-time record for a Scotland forward, held jointly by John Jeffrey and Derek White. The hat-trick he plundered against Romania at Murrayfield 11 days ago was the first by a Scottish forward since Jeffrey 20 years ago.
"I knew Martin Leslie scored 10 tries for Scotland but I had no idea what the record for a forward was," Hogg said. "I'm not too worried about that now. I just want to keep playing and obviously keep trying to play well. That's all you can do. You worry about things like caps and try tallies when you've finished playing." That should not be for some time yet for the former Scotland Under-16s basketballer, who has met Jeffrey but who admits to having no recall of the Kelso openside scavenging away for his country.Reuse content