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Six Nations 2022: Scotland and Stuart Hogg no longer have any fear factor playing against England

Stuart Hogg leads the Scotland captain's run at Murrayfield on Friday.
Stuart Hogg leads the Scotland captain's run at Murrayfield on Friday.

Are Scotland really favourites for today’s Guinness Six Nations opener against mighty England? Stuart Hogg doesn’t care, but to be in the conversation of being favoured to win shows Scotland’s advance under his captaincy.

It wasn’t too long ago that many thought Scotland could play England ten times and maybe get one win. That wasn’t just English hubris or the blinkered bookies either, it was the actual rate of success from 1991 through to 2017.

Scotland won just three of the 30 matches against England in that spell (there also was that World Cup clash in New Zealand in 2011). The three wins were in 2000, 2006 and 2008 and there was a draw in 2010, all at Murrayfield.

‘The Pass’ started the change

Since Finn Russell threw ‘The Pass’ in 2018, however, the Scots have lost just once in four meetings, the wrestle in the storm of 2020. And the frankly pathetic record at Twickenham was finally expunged a year ago this week.

Hogg has been through that turnaround in fortunes first-hand, and he admits to a complete change in attitude to the annual fixture to the Auld Enemy.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t use to worry about playing England, especially in the early years,” he said. “For me, being a rugby pig growing up, some of the names that used to play against us for England made playing them quite a scary task.

“But not now. I truly believe in the ability of myself and of the squad. I believe that we can go out there and win, and that’s been shown to be right over the past four years or so.

“We know we can compete with England, and that’s the exciting thing about our squad. That why we get excited about this fixture, about the challenge.”

What’s the difference? Competition of quality players and coaching, he added.

“The main thing for us is that we’ve got a good amount of competition to pick from now,” continued the captain. “For the last number of years we’ve had boys that, whenever they’ve come into the Scotland squad, they’ve done a good job and gained some valuable experience.

“It makes it a lot tougher for coaches to pick. Guys get a little taste of international rugby and the international environment, it’s somewhere they want to be all the time. Individuals start pushing themselves.”

Townsend’s delegating has been key

Assistant ‘attack’ coach AB Zondagh is the new addition to the Scotland backroom team.

The other addition has been the enlarged management and leadership, with Gregor Townsend delegating to more specialists and to the players.

“We seem to be always adding new coaches, who add their bits and pieces to the squad,” he said. “Something we pride ourselves on is our defence and Steve Tandy is the best defence coach in world rugby.

“You can see that from what he’s done with us over the last couple of years and what he’s done with the Lions in the summer. The buy-in from our squad has been terrific.

“AB Zondagh coming in to the squad this season, adding little bits and pieces as well, has been important. Ultimately it’s making us all stronger.”

Another change is that beating England used to be just about the sole target for Scotland to keep themselves and the fans happy. No longer – the championship is the target.

“We’ve talked about what we’ve done in the last couple of years,” he said. “Can we draw a little bit of confidence from it? Potentially yes.

“And can we look a little at the opportunities that we’ve let go. Those are the things that we’ve focused on more. Against South Africa in the autumn we didn’t get a full account of ourselves. We let ourselves down.

“The important thing for me is not getting too carried away. We have to work out how we got those victories and how we can get even better. We need to be more consistent in what we’re doing.”

‘Rugby on your mind 24/7 is pretty unhealthy’

Hogg says they can’t get Rory Sutherland off the rally simulator.

Another positive change is the Scotland training camp at Oriam, and that’s been a major concern of Hogg since becoming captain.

“When we’re in the (on-site) hotel it’s very much relax and enjoy and chill out,” he said. “But then when we go across the road to the training base it’s very much focus on the rugby and make sure we’re committed to that.

“Then as soon as we get back to the hotel it’s switch off completely. If you have rugby on your mind 24/7 it’s pretty unhealthy. Especially when it’s an eight-week long campaign and we’re going to be with each other so much.”

This campaign’s big hit is a rally car simulator, according to Hogg primarily dominated by Rory Sutherland. There’s also a card school which has become a bit cliquey for the captain’s taste.

“They must be playing for money,” he said. “Sione Tuipulotu, Sammy Johnson, Matt Fagerson, Mark Bennett, there are a few boys in there who have been playing cards. You can’t go in because it’s a very, very serious competition.

“We want boys to rest and recover. But we also want them to have small conversations and to enjoy each other’s company.

“It has a massive knock-on effect on what we do on the pitch. You know your team-mates and you know they are going to stand up for you.”