Monday 11 December 2017

Hogg given licence to thrill as Scots search desperately for elusive X-factor

Brendan Gallagher

Scotland went down fighting against Wales a fortnight ago in a braveheart fashion that pleased the Tartan Army, but the fact remains that they, and coach Andy Robinson, urgently need a win against France at Murrayfield tomorrow.

A talented team is underperforming and the frustration grows daily. Statistics can lie, but rarely over the long haul, and Scotland's recent record makes miserable reading.

Just twice in 12 attempts have they claimed a Six Nations victory under Robinson, and if they lose again tomorrow, it will be the first time they have lost five matches on the bounce since 2004.

With a capacity 67,000 crowd in attendance -- the first full house in Edinburgh for this fixture since 1994 -- Murrayfield is ready to roar, but that won't happen unless Scotland's back division can start backing up the excellent work of their forwards.

That is the key to everything and it is frustrating Robinson to distraction.

warriors

The Scotland pack will have their work cut out this time around. With the exception of young Toulouse lock Yoann Maestri, coach Philippe Saint-Andre has opted for battle-hardened warriors up front, but it would be a huge surprise if the Scots didn't at least achieve parity. What happens next is the perennial question.

"If we can get the quick ball we've had in the last two games we'll give ourselves opportunities," says former captain Mike Blair, who returns at scrum-half.

Blair's half-back partnership with Edinburgh colleague Greig Laidlaw is an important one if Scotland are to sparkle, but the player most under scrutiny will be teenage full-back Stuart Hogg as he makes his first Test start.

Hogg is related to George Best, and there is no doubt that Scotland would kill for some of the creative genius and stardust that the Manchester United legend used to scatter around Europe.

So Hogg, just 19, steps into the fray and a nation awaits. With barely half a season of senior rugby under his belt, Hogg's potential is already there for everybody to see -- fast, imaginative and possessing that sixth sense of what is on and when -- but it's still a huge ask.

Sensing a free spirit, Robinson has given him a free role from full-back, a license to thrill. Those Best genes will be given every chance to shine. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Scotland -- S Hogg; R Lamont, L Jones, S Lamont, G Morrison; G Laidlaw, M Blair; A Jacobsen, R Ford (capt), G Cross; R Gray, J Hamilton; J Barclay, R Rennie, D Denton. Reps: S Lawson, E Kalman, A Kellock, R Vernon, C Cusiter, D Weir, N de Luca.

France -- M Medard; V Clerc, A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu; F Trinh-Duc, M Parra; JB Poux, D Szarzewski, N Mas; P Pape, Y Maestri; T Dusautoir (capt), I Harinordoquy, L Picamoles. Reps: W Servat, V Debaty, L Nallet, J Bonnaire, J Dupuy, L Beauxis, M Mermoz.

Ref -- W Barnes (England)

Scotland v France,

Live, RTE2/BBC2, tomorrow, 3.0

Irish Independent

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