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Hogg: 'I absolutely hated it... but there was method in the madness'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

Stuart Hogg had just finished up an interview with his old mucker Finn Russell on Wednesday in Bath when he popped up on the RugbyPass Zoom for a quick catch-up on his new life as a TV pundit.

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It was July 9 when he called it quits as a player, bringing forward the retirement that was set to take place in October when Scotland’s participation at the Rugby World Cup was over.

Just 10 days after that shock announcement that he wouldn’t be playing at France 2023, TNT Sports unveiled him as the latest edition to their Gallagher Premiership punditry panel.

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Hogg looked nervous when RugbyPass last encountered him, exhibiting pre-transmission butterflies with his muted response when this writer said hello at the media entrance in Marseille on the September day of the Scotland versus South Africa pool match where he was a World Rugby Content Studios guest.

Hogg has since made his TNT bow and ahead of his latest appearance this Sunday on the Sandy Park sidelines, he shed light on how the transition into his new career is going. “I was always nervous before a game, nervous excitement,” he admitted.

“There were a couple of times I was worried that I wasn’t nervous. I used to be nervous before a game whereas now it’s a completely different thing. You can screw up on a rugby field, but you can’t really screw up in a broadcast.

“I am enjoying it; it’s challenging but I’m loving it. Absolutely love it. Like anything in life, you have got to learn and adapt and overcome challenges and it’s now an opportunity to learn new things in the broadcasting world.”

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Hogg has been looking dapper in front of the cameras, his stash of products from Johnstons of Elgin coming in handy to ward off the creeping winter cold. “That’s dad’s line of work but I am still a big fan of the Cashmere. It will be coming more and more out of the wardrobe now it’s getting a bit chillier,” he admitted.

Hogg’s retirement from playing was accompanied by his admission that his 31-year-old body was no longer up to the rigours of the professional game. Four months on, a variety of aches and pains are still with him but the silver lining to no longer being contracted as a player is the leeway he now has to publicise his enthusiasm for horse riding.

His Instagram has plenty of recent shots of him in the saddle, images he wouldn’t have dared publish as a player as that type of activity would have been frowned upon by his rugby employers. Now, though, the coast is clear. “That’s in the blood, horse riding,” he enthused.

“I have done it for a long, long time and just more recently been allowed to post about it. Under contract, you are not meant to do that kind of thing but it has been amazing to get back in. I have got three horses at home, so it’s an easy escape from the kids because horses don’t speak back to you.

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“I wouldn’t say the body is right. It’s definitely something that is a little bit challenging on the body. It’s the knees that struggle but I’m not too bad. I’ll tell you at the minute I am struggling with my back. With all this enjoyable travel, nothing is easy on the body, especially when it comes to the winter months when it’s a bit chillier. I feel I have a 70-year-old man’s body before my time.”

Given that painful self-prognosis, it’s just as well then that he is no longer competing for a place in Rob Baxter’s XV.

It was 2019 when Hogg traded Glasgow for Exeter and while the switch resulted in a Champions Cup/Premiership double being secured in October 2020, his four-season stint had its difficulties – including the way selection went against him at the end of the 2022/23 campaign after he had informed the head coach about his intention to hand up the boots.

“From an Exeter point of view, they genuinely couldn’t care what has been and gone and who went out the door last summer; it’s all about the here and now and the focus is on what talent they have got.

“For me, I was on the receiving end of it at the back end of last season. We had nothing to play for, Rob knew I was retiring so he started to play the younger boys and get them valuable experience for the season ahead.

“At the time I absolutely hated it. I completely disagreed with everything he was doing but there was method in the madness because you have seen the way Josh Hodge, prior to his horrendous injury, and Tommy Wyatt have played.

“These boys were getting game time last season towards the end which gave them a little bit of experience and understanding of what it is to play at this level. I was on the receiving end and hated it but it has worked for them so far this season.

“I still think they have got to learn (as a team): they have not won on the road for over 13 months and for the past couple of seasons they have been missing out on playoffs. You have got to pick up points on the road, it’s as simple as that and they have not been able to do that. Hopefully, that will be able to change really quickly.”

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Exeter went into derby weekend with three wins from five outings and a fourth home win of the fledgling campaign would be useful for Baxter after last weekend’s setback at Northampton. “He has got a good group of coaches around him that will guide him in the right direction,” reckoned Hogg.

“He is a very, very, very clever man is Rob. There will be method in the madness throughout the season about what is going on. When he believes in something he sticks to it and the boys buy into it as well. He is a great coach, a great bloke, and the boys will jump around him with no problem.”

Sunday should be an easier gig for Hogg than November 5 when he went back to Sandy Park to work there on live TV for the first time since finishing up as a player. “It was a strange one,” he said, reflecting on that visit to Devon for the win over Bristol.

“The last time I was at Sandy Park I was a player so it felt a bit weird to go back and not be involved. It’s something I have taken a little bit of time to try and adapt to but away from the real world, I was able to enjoy that moment of being back at Sandy Park. I got a warm reception from the majority of Chiefs fans. It was great to be back and I’m looking forward to going back again.”

  • Watch Exeter Chiefs vs Gloucester exclusively live on TNT Sports 1 and discovery+ from 2:30pm on Sunday, November 19. Stream the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Derby Weekend live on discovery+ or watch on TNT Sports channels on BT, Sky and Virgin Media. This isn’t Just Rugby, This is Personal. For more info visit: tntsports.co.uk/rugby
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Jon 2 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

> it was apparent Robertson was worried about his lack of experience at half-back, hence the decision to start veteran TJ Perenara and put Finlay Christie, the next most experienced number nine, on the bench. I don’t think it was this at all. It was a general scope he was putting over all the playerbase, he went with this cohesion factor in every position. > If the main priority is to build different tactical elements to the gameplan, then Ratima is the man in whom Robertson needs to trust and promote. This also I think is antagonist towards the reference game plans. The other plans do not need the speed of which Perenara (atleast) can’t provide, and I think personal is going to be the main point of difference between these games/opponents. That is the aspect of which I think most people will struggle to grasp, a horses for course selection policy over the typical ‘Top All Black 15’. That best 15 group of players is going to have to get broken down into categories. So it test one we saw Christie control the game to nullify the English threats out of existence and grind to a win. In test two we saw Ratima need to come on which dictated that this time they would run them off their feet with speed and the space did open up and the victory did come. Horses for courses. The same concepts are going to exist for every group, front row, lock and loose forward balance, midfield, and outside backs all can have positional changes that the players may be asked to accentualize on and develop. There might be some that _it_ will not ever click for, but they’ll hopefully still be getting to enjoy unbelievable comeback victories and late game shutouts to close it down. Knowing does not mean not enjoying.

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