Stuart Hogg showing signs of magic in Best family tradition


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The Independent Online

It was on the corresponding weekend of the Six Nations Championship last year that the true footballing pedigree of Stuart Hogg started to become apparent. After making his debut for Scotland against Wales in Cardiff, the Glasgow full-back discovered he was related to George Best. A close relative of Best saw on television that a Hogg from Hawick was playing for Scotland and wrote to a cousin of his father in the Borders town to alert them to the link between the two families.

It is a distant one. "You'll have to ask my father," Hogg said as he prepared for what will be his 11th international appearance, against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday. "You go up the family tree, across and back down. It's a long way."

Still, there was more than a hint of the old Best magic in the feet of Scotland's hugely gifted young full-back as he dribbled up the right wing at Twickenham last Saturday to score his country's second try in their 38-18 defeat against England. There was also the searing break from deep that set up the opening try for the debutant winger Sean Maitland and some spiralling, spot-on kicks to touch from the 20-year-old Hogg.

"I haven't taken a lot of stick, because it's true," he said, when asked about the reaction from his team-mates to the news of his relation to sporting royalty. "The family are regular visitors across to Northern Ireland now.

"I'm the only one who's not been across yet and it's all because of me that they know them. I'm hoping at the back end of the season that I'll be able to jump across and see them. I've met a few of them who have come across to Hawick. They're daft, to be honest.

"It has opened up a door on my dad's side. My dad's always been wanting to find out his family history because his parents died relatively young. It's a small world... because of me playing international rugby, a thing like this has opened up. It's quite scary when you hear all the stories they've been telling me. One of George Best's relatives is a lady who looks pretty much like my dad. It's a shame for her."

Having only been born in 1992, Hogg has no first-hand recall of the genius of Best. "I have seen him on video, though," he said. "Me and my brother have a wee bit of banter, saying I got the talent side and he got the alcohol side. He takes it on the chin. It's a good laugh."

It is also a trifle unfair. After all, Graham Hogg has been blessed with sufficient talent to play for Scotland in the IRB World Sevens Series.

Best, of course, spent some of the tail-end of his football career playing in Scotland for Hibernian. He did not exactly have the best of times. When Hibs officials turned up at the North British Hotel in Edinburgh to collect their star player for a Scottish Cup tie against Ayr United in 1980 they found him in a comatose state in the bar. It was 11am on a Sunday morning.

The French rugby union team had been playing at Murrayfield the day before and when their captain Jean-Pierre Rives heard that Best was staying at the same hotel he insisted on him joining their party – which the footballer did with a vengeance.

Hibs' club doctor gave Best several injections but failed to revive him. He was sacked by the Edinburgh club but reinstated a week later.

Canale drafted in to shore up Italy's centre

Gonzalo Canale will replace the injured centre Alberto Sgarbi in the only change to Italy's side for the Six Nations Championship match against Scotland at Murrayfield.

Gonzalo Garcia takes Canale's place on the bench, with Canale recovering from a thigh injury to start the game. The Azzurri stunned France with a 23-18 win in last weekend's opener in Rome and the Italy coach, Jacques Brunel, has kept faith with his team, with Sgarbi only missing out because of an ankle problem.

Italy, who beat Scotland 13-6 last year, will hand a 100th cap to 36-year-old prop Andrea Lo Cicero and a 50th appearance to hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini.