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'Uncalled for': Ex-All Black defends Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell from 'unfair' criticism

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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Former All Blacks hooker James Parsons has leapt to the defence of Scotland stars Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell after they became the subjects of harsh criticism following their side’s Six Nations loss to France at the weekend.

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Hogg and Russell were lambasted by ex-Ireland internationals Rob Kearney and Shane Horgan for their efforts against Les Bleus in a match that Scotland lost 36-17 at Murrayfield in Edinburgh.

That result effectively ended Scotland’s hopes of challenging for the Six Nations title, and Kearney and Horgan wasted no time in ripping into Hogg and Russell for their performances.

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A dropped catch by Hogg from a long Chris Harris pass with the tryline begging near the end of the first half proved to be a focal point of the match, especially after France marched down the field and scored a try themselves just before the break.

That moment in particular left Horgan aggrieved with Hogg, who he said is “not the complete player” despite his tag as one of the world’s best.

“I think he makes one or two big mistakes every game,” Horgan told Virgin Media Sports TV on Irish television in the immediate aftermath of the match.

“I really like the way he plays, I think he’s really exciting. He wants to get involved he makes lots of breaks. He’s really passionate and he’s really committed to Scotland and he works really hard, but he makes one or two errors every game.

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“He’s not the complete player.

“He has a little bit of a weakness on his inside shoulder when defending. He has the occasional terrible day on the high ball, which we have seen with the Lions. His positional sense isn’t great. We saw him drop that ball.

“Even going back a couple of years ago with the try against Ireland which he dropped on the line. They’re crucial errors.

“If you want to be an outstanding, world class player, which I think he is and capable of being, you can’t allow those elements into your game and he consistently does it. As your top player, he can’t.”

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Kearney, the 98-test Ireland and British & Irish Lions fullback, followed suit as he criticised the Scotland captain for his defensive shortcomings.

“Captain of the team, along with other big key members of this team not stepping up. On the big day, they’re the ones that need to perform,” Kearney told Virgin Media Sports TV.

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“He’s a fullback who closes the gate early. Teams will know when they’re analysing that he leaves a lot of space in the backfield. He’s caught badly out of position.”

Russell was subjected to similarly dour assessment of his performance as Horgan labelled his levels of effort as “pathetic”.

“That is actually pathetic, for your top player, your talisman. Five minutes into the game. He doesn’t have an injury. He’s not fatigued. You’ve got a guy like Rory Darge killing himself around the field,” Horgan said.

“Then you’ve got your best player performing like that. There’s no way any team can win consistently if you’ve got players doing that.

“It’s like what France were doing in their dark ages. That’s gone out of the French team. You’d never see a Springbok doing that. You’d never see an All Black doing that.

“If Finn Russell counts himself as a really top player, have a look at the best players of the last ten years.

“Look at the Brian O’Driscoll’s, the generational players, the Dan Carter’s, the Jonny Wilkinson’s. They were so hard working. That was pathetic.”

Likewise, Kearney came out swinging at the 29-year-old playmaker, whose work rate he described as “humiliating”.

“When that comes up on the big screen in front of your teammates, and your indirectly saying, ‘I don’t really care about this team. I’m not going to work as hard as I can.’ That’s not good enough. It’s humiliating.”

In light of those comments, Parsons has moved to defend Hogg and Russell from their Irish critics, whose words he said were “really uncalled for”.

Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons said he was unsure how Hogg’s quality as a player could be called into question over a knock on from a pass that he suggested should not have been made by Harris.

The former two-test rake added that it was “unfair” to use previous matches that Russell has failed to fire in as a critique from the weekend’s fixture.

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“It just shows how, I suppose, ruthless and fickle it can be, this game,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod of Horgan and Kearney’s comments about Hogg and Russell.

“We celebrated them, the new style, the new way they’ve brought to Scottish rugby and their ability to do special things, and then the one game it doesn’t come off, they resort back to saying things about these players from their past.

“It’s easy to resort back to talking about effort with Finn Russell when he’s had the chequered history that he’s had, but I think it’s unfair to say that now.

“I don’t know how you can have a crack at Stuart Hogg. He’s still in my [RugbyPass Six Nations] Dream Team. One knock on does not change that man and the ticker he has for Scotland.

“I think it’s really uncalled for, and almost feels like someone’s waiting to have a crack.”

Although Crusaders and Maori All Blacks halfback Bryn Hall agreed with Parsons and brandished Horgan and Kearney’s comments as “poor”, he said their words are reflective of how there is now an expectation for Scotland to win important matches.

Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that was not the case a few years ago, and said that is a good thing for Scottish rugby as it illustrates how much the nation has developed in recent times.

“What I do think, though, Jip, which is probably good for Scottish rugby, is that the expectation is that they should be winning those games,” Hall said in response to Parsons.

“It’s the growth that they’ve had with [head coach Gregor] Townsend and the growth that they’ve had in their squad that, like we’ve said, five of those teams can win the Six Nations championship with the rugby that they’re playing.

“I agree with you, Jip, it’s poor to [question] the effort of Finn Russell, who obviously had just one [bad] game. Stuart Hogg, probably nine times out of 10 catches that ball, score a try and it could be different moving forward in that game.

“I just think it’s good for Scotland rugby for the fact that the expectation that is that they should be winning these games. We talked about last week, the week before, they should have won that game against Wales.

“I just think it’s good for Scottish rugby that the expectation is, ‘You know what, we should be winning these games that we were just not participating in, you probably would have thought, five or six years ago’.”

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