Watching Stuart Hogg playing in a Scotland jersey in one of the biggest rugby arenas in the world last Saturday at the Stade de France, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the youngster from Hawick had dozens of caps under his belt.
He was confident, fearless and very much in control. He’s a team player, of course, but he’s someone who is not afraid to have a go and take on the best in the world.
Rugby, like other team sports, has been affected so much in the professional era where some bright individuals have had the flair coached right out of them in a bid to play a team game. Team orders and tactics are very much the order of the day and the emphasis is more on defence.
So how do the young talented players fit into the world of professional rugby?
Well Hogg has proved, along with a few others, that it is possible. I don’t have a hotline to the inner sanctum of the Scotland coaching set-up but I’m glad that Scott Johnson and the backroom squad have apparently given him their blessing to express himself.
Hogg is an entertainer. He thrives on taking risks and he has the confidence, the ability and the belief to make the most of any potential attacking situation, even from deep. And if he thinks he can gain yardage on the pitch, he will go for it.
He loves responsibility and pressure and the fans want to see that in a player.
Let’s be honest, there haven’t been many Scottish superstars in recent times who are known worldwide. But the amount of media attention devoted to Hogg has been unprecedented and word is spreading fast.
Along with Richie Gray, he must be Scotland’s best chance of being selected for the British and Irish Lions tour in the summer.
After dropping the ball in the first minute against France at the weekend he didn’t let it get to him. He was angry with himself but he didn’t let it influence his game, and he bounced back to make amends. Even when he does make mistakes – and his missed tackle that let France in for their first try at a crucial stage in the match was a big one – the supporters are backing him.
They’ve “bought in” to what the young man is all about, and to win over a fickle Scottish crowd is not easy to do; just ask some of the players who have worn the jersey recently.
Andy Irvine used to win games for Scotland with moments of sheer genius.
He would also lose games for Scotland, but he was brilliant box-office material.
Irvine attracted people to the game, as Steve Ovett did for athletics and Alex Higgins did for snooker.
These guys knew how to put on a show, and with so much competition these days for sports fans’ hard-earned cash, rugby needs characters who will put bums on seats.
Hogg, who thoroughly deserves his nomination for the shortlist for 6nations player of the tournament, has the potential to be a very big star in the game. He’s totally grounded, a tremendous ambassador for Scottish rugby, and has many years ahead of him to improve as a player. He notched a try at Twickenham this year, one of the few bright moments that day for Scotland, and his superb score against Italy has been rerun many times already. There were moments of magic against Ireland and Wales, and against France he put in a big shift.
He has surely put himself in contention for the Lions tour, and while Leigh Halfpenny, of Wales, is probably the favoured 15 for the test jersey at the moment, the Border grit which he has inherited will see him battle to win the selectors over, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he ends up as first choice by the end of the tour.
He’s come a very long way in such a short space of time and he’s made it all look effortless.
He’s a shining example to any youngster and the perfect role model. Hawick and Borders rugby can be rightly proud of its latest hero.