Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg has announced that he will be leaving Glasgow Warriors at the end of this season, and rumours have been rife and even confirmed by BBC Scotland that he will be joining Exeter Chiefs for next season. This is a move that requires comment, not because it is a bad move, but because it just sparked my interest and got me thinking what he will add to the Chiefs’ ranks.
The first thing to mention is that Hogg is one of the best full-backs in the world when he is at the top of his game. In the 2017 Six Nations tournament, he was easily my Player of the Tournament, and deservedly so. But something you have to be able to do as a modern full-back is not just be a full-back. In today’s game, you have to be able to play in several positions. Full-backs and wingers are interchangeable – look at Liam Williams for Saracens and Wales, or Elliott Daly for Wasps and England, or Santiago Cordero for Exeter and Argentina. All three of these can play at both full-back and wing, and can thrive at both. In Hogg’s case, he won’t start as a winger, but what he will offer you is power and pace and an attacking threat from the back of the pitch. How many times have you seen Stuart Hogg score tries when he is supposed to be at the back of the pitch? It’s not a criticism of him by any means, but what I am trying to highlight is that Hogg can start at the back, kick a ball high, and whilst his teammates are being tackled and getting the ball closer and closer to the opposing try-line, he is quietly getting himself in the right areas to receive the final ball and cross over for the try.
So how will this help Exeter? Well they don’t have any problems with wingers – they have plenty. But as I said, I don’t see Hogg starting on the wing, even when there are no other wingers available for them. Instead, they only have two full-backs currently on their books – Phil Dollman and Jack Nowell. Nowell plays more as a winger these days, and indeed that is where England tend to start him or to sub him on into, and its a position where he thrives. Dollman is a very reliable player, often scoring tries and beginning moves that result in try-scoring opportunities. But he is now 33 and whilst that is still relatively young in sporting terms, he won’t go on for ever. I think Exeter have made their move for Hogg because, at the age of 26, he will be a more than adequate replacement for Dollman in the long-term, and he can and I think will be their first-choice full-back next season. His kicking ability will certainly benefit Exeter’s style of play, he is solid at defending when his team are on the back foot, and he will get forward and give them another element in their attack, and a try-scoring threat that other teams will have to watch out for. Hogg has the quality to be the talisman of that team, but the reason I don’t think he will is that Exeter have a very good overall team and everyone is the talisman, such is their playing style.
One final point why Hogg is right to be looking to move from Scotland to England for his club rugby career is that he is not the first to be doing it. Duncan Weir, who is a Scotland fly-half, moved from Edinburgh to Worcester Warriors over last summer, and is now probably the best player in the Warriors’ ranks, or certainly the one player that they can’t do without. Weir is 27 and still has years ahead of him, and, as I said above, Hogg is 26 and so definitely still has years in him. He will have seen how well Weir is doing and that will give him confidence that moving to the Premiership is right for him.
So overall, Exeter moving for Hogg is very smart, and with Exeter still being my picks for Premiership Champions this season, the question now will be how much better can they realistically get? At the moment, they are the best team in the Premiership, so Hogg will absolutely make the right move by going there next year.