Hawick’s Stuart Hogg named as captain for British and Irish Lions’ next game and “buzzing to be back” after Covid isolation
Borderer Stuart Hogg has been named as captain for the British and Irish Lions’ next game, against DHL Stormers in Cape Town tomorrow, July 17.
It will be the former Hawick star’s second game of the multinational rugby side’s South African tour and also his second stint as captain.
Fellow former Green Rory Sutherland is in tomorrow’s starting XV too, making his third start of the tour, including the Japan game, and fourth appearance overall.
Alun Wyn Jones, back as overall tour captain after making a speedy recovery from a shoulder injury sustained in the Lions’ warm-up game against Japan in Edinburgh on Saturday, June 26, will be among the replacements for this weekend’s game, kicking off at 5pm.
Scotland captain Hogg has also been out of action, due to being required to self-isolate by coronavirus protocols rather than injury, and says it’s come as a relief to be back with the rest of the squad and set to play again.
Having been deemed a close contact of the member of the party returning a positive coronavirus test, along with fellow Borderer Gregor Townsend, the 29-year-old was forced to remain in Johannesburg after most of the touring party set off for Cape Town on Sunday, July 11.
That has ruled Hogg out of selection since leading the tourists to a 56-14 victory over the Sigma Lions on Saturday, July 3, though head coach Warren Gatland has been rotating his squad anyway to give all players game-time so he’d have been almost certain to miss one or more of the three games played since.
“It has been frustrating,” said the Exeter Chiefs star.
“I’ve had to just get on with it, suck it up and get on with my job.
"The key was to get into a good routine. It's a long old time to be hidden away. It was about getting my routine sorted and being as productive as I could.
“It was challenging at times, but we had a mini-isolation group who had a good bit of craic and kept each other going.
“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Honestly, it was a horrendous few days.
“It became a little bit easier once the touring party left.
“We got a little bit of time in the gym and I managed to sanitise it down about a million times.
“I got the chance to do everything I possibly could. I was carrying a little knock after a training session, but I'm all good now and excited to get going again.
“For me, the main thing is everyone is fit and well and healthy.
“I’m absolutely buzzing to be back and hugely excited about another opportunity to represent the Lions.”
Hogg, like Sutherland, will be hoping to impress during Saturday’s run-out at Cape Town Stadium to make his case to be picked for the first test against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday, July 24.
If so, it will be his first-ever test match for the Lions despite having featured on two previous tours.
He’s been called up twice before, in New Zealand in 2017 and Australia in 2013, playing five provincial games first time round and two before a fractured eye socket sustained during an accidental collision with team-mate Conor Murray cut short his second outing four years later.
Looking back at that enforced early exit, Hogg said: “It's something I kept quiet and to myself for a long time, the experience of 2017.
“I felt going into that tour that I was playing some good rugby. To have it taken away was bitterly disappointing.
"It took me a good year and a half, two years, to get over it, to get back up and running and get excited about playing rugby again.
“That hunger and drive I kept to myself.
“My focus all along was to give myself every opportunity to represent the Lions again.
“Now I am here, it's about making the most of it.
“There’s been a lot of hard work along the way.”
Gatland added: “It is particularly pleasing to be able to name Stuart Hogg in the squad.
“He’s not had much luck on Lions tours to date, so it’ll be great to see him cross the whitewash again with the captain’s armband.”
Tomorrow’s starting line-up is all change from the one that lost 17-13 to South Africa A on Wednesday, July 14, and will see new recruit Marcus Smith making his Lions debut at fly-half.
The Two Borderers are among seven Scots in the 23-strong matchday squad, with Duhan van der Merwe, Ali Price and Hamish Watson also starting and Zander Fagerson and Chris Harris named as replacements.
Tomorrow’s game is the last warm-up before the tourists’ three tests against the Springboks.