Tuesday 25 June 2019

Cian Tracey: 'Why Leinster must stop Glasgow's danger man'

Hogg's natural ability to step in as playmaker makes the Scottish side a real attacking force

Hogg is just as comfortable as first receiver as he proves when collecting another screen pass behind three clever decoy lines,
which fixes the Leinster defence and thus creates space out wide
Hogg is just as comfortable as first receiver as he proves when collecting another screen pass behind three clever decoy lines, which fixes the Leinster defence and thus creates space out wide
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For all of his undoubted attacking prowess, it may come as a surprise that Stuart Hogg has only managed to score two tries for Glasgow this season.

The electric full-back was hampered by the shoulder injury that he picked up during Scotland's Six Nations defeat to Ireland, which has limited Hogg to playing just 13 club games this campaign.

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This Saturday in the PRO14 final, he will play his final game for Glasgow before he joins Exeter Chiefs. What better way to bow out than lifting a trophy in the club's home city?

Hogg's return to full fitness coincided with Glasgow putting together a remarkable run of form that has seen them win their last nine league games, scoring a staggering average of 39 points in the process. Hogg may not have contributed directly to that impressive tally, but he has been at the forefront of everything good about the expansive style of play that the Scots are playing under Dave Rennie.

Gregor Townsend unquestionably laid solid foundations on which Rennie has built with impressive results as well as a scintillating style of play to go with them.

Exeter don't exactly play such an exciting brand, but it is little wonder why the Premiership side have forked out the big bucks to bring a player of Hogg's class to Sandy Park.

The 26-year-old has the ability to create something out of nothing with his searing pace, yet it is his playmaking ability and work off the ball that has really caught the eye recently.

Arriving from the Chiefs in New Zealand, Rennie was used to working with All Blacks, whose movement off the ball was just as important as what they did on it.

It's a philosophy that he has instilled at Glasgow, who are now reaping the rewards. Winning a trophy is very much the next step.

Filling the void left by Hogg will be no easy task as they are losing their key man at a time when the club feels like it is on the up again.

"In a lot of ways he's irreplaceable because of the talent he has, but also the energy," Glasgow flanker Rob Harley admitted.

"He'll be the first guy to say he's not always positive, he gets stroppy about it, but it's because he wants to win every game we're playing, that includes football games or even if we're just kicking a tennis ball around, he wants to win.

"That's a big thing in our squad, it drives the winning mentality. He is a huge loss for us but hopefully we'll send him off with the right note."

This weekend will be a real test of how far Glasgow have come because although they beat Leinster last month, with the big guns back, a much tougher prospect lies ahead.

Adam Hastings has been a key cog in the wheel with his exquisite range of passing as well as an eye for a gap, and the young out-half is regularly helped by Hogg's ability to step into the line as playmaker, which in turn makes Glasgow quite difficult to read from a defensive point of view.

Glasgow tore Ulster to shreds in last week's semi-final and while some of the defending was awful, Rennie's men, led by Hogg, gave a joyous exhibition of attacking rugby.

A hallmark of Glasgow's play this season has been using the screen pass in a bid to combat the aggressive line speed of opposition defences.

Screen passing is a rugby league concept that involves players running hard lines as if they are about to receive the ball, whereas it actually goes out the back to the playmaker.

In image (1), we can see Rob Harley (blue) running the aforementioned hard line at the onrushing Ulster defence, but Hogg's (yellow) movement off the ball allows him to arc around his team-mate and into the open space before he puts Tommy Seymour over for a cracking try.

Hogg1.jpg
Hogg acts as second receiver with his team-mate’s movement off the ball allowing him to run into the space that leads to a try against Ulster last week.

A few minutes later in the same game (2), Hogg's imaginative running off the ball again creates an opening – this time as he brilliantly collects Hastings' clever dink over the top before offloading in the tackle, which leads to Kyle Steyn scoring another stunning team try.

hogg 2.jpg
Hogg has struck up an excellent understanding with Adam Hastings as shown when the Glasgow out-half instinctively knows to chip the ball over the defence for his full-back to run onto

Last month's win at the RDS will have done Glasgow's confidence levels the world of good and Hogg was again pivotal to that victory.

Image (3) highlights Hogg's speed off the mark as he recognises the space on Leinster's left side. Hogg sprints around Sam Johnson and but for an uncharacteristically poor pass, he would have set Seymour away.

hogg3.jpg
Last month, Leinster got a reminder of how dangerous Hogg is, and he again displays great speed to get into position as second receiver, which sets the attacking play in motion

Later on in the first half (4), the screen pass is again used as Glasgow launch three runners at the line with Hogg stepping in as first receiver to get the back-line moving again.

hogg4.jpg
Hogg is just as comfortable as first receiver as he proves when collecting another screen pass behind three clever decoy lines, which fixes the Leinster defence and thus creates space out wide

That kind of movement off the ball is exactly what Munster were unable to threaten Leinster with last weekend.

If the champions are to retain their title in Celtic Park, nullifying Hogg's threat both with and without the ball is absolutely imperative.

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