Hogg ready to do his very Best for Scotland
Flying full-back related to football legend can make France drown sorrows
Friday 24 February 2012
Sadly, the great Bill McLaren is not around to wax lyrically about Stuart Hogg, the latest son of his beloved Hawick to make it into the Scotland team. Still, as Jonathan Davies – the voice of rugby's old sidekick in the BBC commentary box – observed when the 19-year-old full-back-cum-centre made his debut off the bench against Wales in Cardiff a fortnight ago: "He's got something about him."
He has indeed. And not surprisingly so, given the family link that has come to light this week. The young man, who will become the first teenager to start for Scotland for 40 years when he lines up at full-back against France on Sunday, happens to be related to George Best.
"It turns out my granny's granny was the sister of George Best's great-grandfather," Hogg said. "A lady from Northern Ireland got in touch with my dad's cousin in Hawick after I played against Wales, sending a newspaper article and a phone number to ring. My dad's mum and dad unfortunately died young and my dad's always wanted to find out about his family history, and he found out through this lady that he's related to George Best. It is pretty amazing. My dad was in tears on the phone when he found out."
Best was 18 when he made his international debut, on the right wing for Northern Ireland against Switzerland in Lausanne in 1964. He was somewhat past his best when he came to Edinburgh to play for Hibernian. On one occasion, in 1980, officials turned up at the North British Hotel at 11am on a Sunday to take him to a Scottish Cup tie against Ayr – only to find he had been in the bar drinking all night with Jean-Pierre Rives, the captain of the French rugby union XV, who was drowning his sorrows after a 22-14 defeat at Murrayfield.
Hogg will be 119 days shy of his 20th birthday when he lines up against the French. That will make him the youngest member of a Scotland starting XV since Jim Renwick faced France at Murrayfield, 28 days short of his 20th birthday, in 1972.
It just so happens that Hogg is mentored, in a programme run by the Winning Scotland Foundation, by Renwick, who won 52 caps as a centre. Both learned their rugby at Mansfield Park – the home of Hawick RFC that shares its name with the fictional gaff of Fanny Price in the novel by Jane Austen.
"Jim's a great man," Hogg said. "He's always keeping me composed and keeping my feet on the ground. He's been amazing for me. I've seen a couple of his games on ESPN Classic. You must be getting old if you're on that. Obviously I've heard all the good things about Jim from my dad. And I think Jim's told me a few times that he was pretty good as well."
Hogg was pretty good when he stepped off the bench in Cardiff to make his debut, as a replacement for the injured Max Evans. In his bright yellow boots, he produced some dazzling footwork and the kind of instinctive running from broken play that has been missing from Scotland's game for some time.
The Glasgow player, who was still an apprentice at the start of the season, also produced what television replays showed should have been a valid try – after the French referee Romain Poite had mistakenly ruled that he had knocked on.
"He spoke to me at the post-match function and apologised," Hogg said. "I fully respect him for doing that but it was a wee bit too late, as far as I was concerned."
Jonathan Davies was not the only former Welsh great purring about Hogg's 55-minute contribution in Cardiff the weekend before last. The recently retired wing Shane Williams was also fairly enthusiastic in his praise.
The mentor of the new bright young thing of Scottish rugby was pretty impressed too. "A lot of people have been saying it's been a breath of fresh air, seeing someone taking on a man and beating him on the outside," Renwick said.
Especially in a Scotland jersey, he might have added.
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