Named player of the tournament for the most recent RBS 6 Nations, Hawick-born Stuart Hogg is once again holding the key to Scotland’s success – at least according to England’s Ben Youngs.
The versatile Hogg was at times in mesmerising form in 2016, starting every game of the Championship while also closing out his campaign with tries against Ireland and France.
Beyond those scores, deft of touch and beautiful handwork – leading to two tries against Italy and one when facing France – made the rugby world take note.
It led to Scotland finishing fourth in the Championship, defeating both France and Italy, with plenty more expected this time around.
And for Youngs, Grand Slam winner under Eddie Jones just 12 months ago, the warning signs are undoubtedly there for England’s defensive unit to take heed of when the two meet at Twickenham in round four in March.
“Stuart had a fantastic Six Nations last year. Some of the things he was doing were pretty special ,so we have to be wary of that,” said Youngs.
“He’s got the speed and he’s got the skill and has the ability to do a lot on the pitch – even if he’s not the man scoring the tries, he’s always heavily involved.
“I’ve played against him a couple of times for Leicester Tigers against Glasgow Warriors and he’s done well there. I’m sure he’ll be a big part of Scotland’s chances across the tournament.
“But they have a lot of strong players – Matt Scott and Greig Laidlaw are guys I know at Gloucester and there are a lot of important guys in what is becoming a stronger team.”
While Youngs is aware of an improvement in the Scotland ranksin recent times, there are plenty of other challengers to England’s Six Nations crown – just their second since lifting the World Cup in 2003.
In Ireland, Youngs and co are set to face the side that ended New Zealand’s 18-game unbeaten run, while Wales’ three victories in their autumn internationals was their best haul since 2002.
Couple that with Italy defeating South Africa and France running both New Zealand and Australia close, and Youngs is unsurprisingly forecasting one of the closest RBS 6 Nations in recent memory.
“If you look across the board, it should be one of the most competitive Six Nations to be a part of,” he added. “It’s going to be fantastic. Each team has had some impressive performances and some big results. We know that’s going to lead to some big competition.
“Each will be a massive test, France first up is a battle and Italy always give it their all and are getting results to go with it.
“Whatever happens, it’s going to be exciting. You look at every nation and there are plenty of strengths, they’re all in good form.
“There’s no hiding that the British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand in the summer is the golden egg at the end, every player will be doing their all and history shows a team that’s successful in a 6 Nations has good Lions representation.”
(Ben Youngs is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover continues to champion grassroots rugby through its We Deal In Real campaign. @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal)