Hogg inspirational as Scotland get back on track in emphatic fashion
Scotland 34 Italy 10The Six Nations goes into hibernation for a fortnight but that may not be long enough for at least two-thirds of the coaches involved to work out where they and their sides stand and how they got there.
For example, Jacques Brunel, the acclaimed “genius” behind Italy’s first-round win over France, left Edinburgh yesterday with his tail between his legs, suggesting that a four-try hammering might be the price to be paid for trying to change a country’s rugby ethos.
Scott Johnson was not overly pleased with his first win as the stand-in national coach for Scotland.
Withering after his side’s abject performance at Twickenham a week earlier, Johnson was only marginally happier after seeing them brush aside Italy while the brief adulation the Italian press showed last week for the career of the fly-half Luciano Orquera is surely over.
Last week Orquera was the darling of Gazzetta dello Sport and Corriere della Sera after having a hand in anything good that happened against France, while on Saturday he seemed to be involved in anything that lost Italy their moment in the sun.
From the penalty which slid off the right upright seven minutes into the game to his theatrical departure – only the crook was missing – in the 48th minute, nothing but nothing went right for the 31-year-old who took a decade to become an overnight success.
Unfortunately for a man who took to the spotlight with some alacrity, his worst and final sin could have been the redeeming moment. Admittedly Italy were 17 points down but, as Stuart Hogg confessed later, it was a 14-point moment: “Seven points for them if I missed, seven for us if I succeeded.” Sadly for Orquera, Hogg succeeded and the Glasgow fullback continued to do his chances of a Lions berth no harm at all.
Leigh Halfpenny and Rob Kearney may be favourites to go to Australia but against England, Hogg chased, kicked and chased again for his try. On Saturday he gambled, stuck out a right hand and once he was beyond the Italian cover and out of the Scotland 22 there was no doubt about where the run would end 85 metres later.
As Johnson said later, it was the moment that decided the game. Orquera trudged off looking at his boot straps and Italy go back to searching for the No10 they need if Brunel is to realise his dream of making the Azzurri a side that is more than just a powerful pack.
All eyes are now on a Scottish back three of varying nationality – Hogg plus Tim Visser, from Flevoland in the Netherlands, and Sean Maitland, from North Island, New Zealand – which can hurt any side. Johnson is not so sure about his forwards.
They improved massively from the Twickenham debacle but will have to step up again when Ireland and then Wales visit Edinburgh.
And that was the subject of Johnson’s can-do-better assessment of his team’s performance. “We are really happy with the scoreboard and why wouldn’t we be?” said the Australian.
“But this is a championship and we want to win the championship so, while there were some really good things in the game and much improvement, there was still plenty left out on that pitch. We had more opportunities to put them away.
“There was a real turning point when Hoggy took it from one end to the other ... but the events that occurred before his try were disappointing and that scoreboard could have switched pretty quickly.”