Belfast Telegraph

Hogg is dreaming of the ultimate happy ending


Thinking big: Stuart Hogg is striving to lift the trophy
Thinking big: Stuart Hogg is striving to lift the trophy
David Kelly

By David Kelly

George Best's Scottish club career effectively reached its nadir in Parkhead; now Stuart Hogg is hoping his can end on a high when he himself runs out for the final time on Scottish soil tomorrow.

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Hogg, a lifelong Hibernian fan, was not born when the Belfast boy attempted the latest in a series of doomed comebacks for the Easter Road side in 1980.

Little did he know that Best was a distant relation; Hogg's father was possessed of a passion for genealogy and unearthed a great grandmother who was related to Best.

Ancient blood is not all they share; their games may use a different ball but Hogg thrills with it like his famous relative, both, in their own ways, irrepressible, rubber-hipped weavers of magic.

Except with each passing month, it seems, rugby is no longer suitable to the little man with grand ambitions.

Perhaps Parkhead, with its echoes of Jinky Johnstone - the smallest yet greatest Celtic genius of them all - might inspire those like Hogg and Jordan Larmour to remind us that beauty can still reside amongst the beasts.

"Space is at a premium," he concedes, "but we try and stick to our structures that allows the back three or the backline to create mismatches or create space for other people.

"There are strengths and weaknesses in Leinster's attack and defence and the same with us.

"We still want to play an expansive brand of rugby, a quick-tempo game. It has worked for us over the past couple of years.

"Last year we learned a hell of a lot towards the business end of the season that we really have to have that clinical edge to our game.

"This season, the game against Saracens in Europe when we lost was probably the best thing to happen to us; they gave us the kick up the backside that we needed.

"Up front we were bullied, we weren't clinical enough as a backline and that is the way that you have to play in these final games.

"We have had a good reaction on the back of that game. We feel we are in a good place to go out and have some fun at the weekend."

Fun comes naturally to Hogg, but those structures of which he speaks are key, too; like Glasgow, he was often pigeon-holed as a player who could turn many a trick but would often fail to deliver an end product.

It was enough to deliver them this title three years ago but nothing since; hard-nosed coach Dave Rennie has encouraged more brutality in his side; not necessarily to cow the beauty, but to ensure it flourishes.

"We have had some good ding-dong battles with Leinster over the years. At times in big games we came up short," adds Hogg.

"They came across last season in the second game of the Champions Cup and bullied us.

"Defensively, we are going to have to be spot on, try and keep their key players out of the game as much as we possibly can and make the most of the opportunities we get with the ball.

"There might be only five or six but we have to make sure we are making the most of it.

"Rugby is a fairly simple game when you get it right, so here's hoping at the weekend we can do exactly that."

Hogg hopes to enjoy a beer after the game, win (hopefully for him) or lose before Exeter beckons.

Best's tale in Scotland was often of having beers - too many - before the game; he was once baited by an away crowd with cans of beer being pelted at him.

Naturally, he picked one up and took a sip.

A 5-0 Cup loss in Glasgow was a lowlight; Hogg hopes for a different ending.

"We have a final on home turf which will be massive and hopefully feed off the crowd. I am just concentrating on my job. This has been a target all season," he says.

"It's just about going out there having some fun and doing my job for the team."

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