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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 9 March 2021

Stuart Hogg intent on not being 'bullied' by Leinster as he bids to sign off with silverware

Hogg is among the great entertainers, but Glasgow will attempt to show off their clinical, pragmatic side to unseat the reigning champions.

Image: Inpho/Billy Stickland

THE PRO14 WILL be a little poorer next season, for tomorrow’s Grand Final at Celtic Park will be the chance for a few stellar talents to grace the competition.

Sean O’Brien did not get the chance to bid farewell to the RDS with a semi-final victory last weekend, and may not feature this weekend, but Stuart Hogg helped creating a fitting final run at Scotstoun as Glasgow ran riot against Ulster.

Celtic Park will be a final bow for Hogg.  Clearly, that ground carries a weight of significance for all involved with sport in Scotland, but Hogg grew up a Hibernian fan, so it’s neither a Mecca nor the Death Star.

“Terrific stadium and the boys are very much looking forward to playing on it. Hopefully there is a big crowd to cheer us on,” says the electric fullback.

“We have a final on our home turf, you could say, in Glasgow, in Scotland – which will be massive for us and hopefully we can feed off the crowd.”

It’s an exciting venue for Hogg to mark his last game as a Warrior before he becomes a Chief, and he has an opportunity leave a legacy in Glasgow if they can secure a second title in four years. But the steps towards that goal are all he can concentrate on for the time-being.

“For me it’s all about doing my job for the team and making sure that we give ourselves the best opportunity to lift a trophy.

“If I am going out there and expressing myself, having some fun and having a smile on my face then it means that things are going quite well for us. It will be my last game for Glasgow, but I will worry about that after the game; hopefully when we have a trophy in our hands.”

Stuart Hogg and Jacob Stockdale Hogg and Jacob Stockdale compete for a ball in Scotstoun. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Like most athletes in team sports who get a chance to look back. The stand-out memories for Hogg do not consist of single moments or special tries. The first image he conjures from his internal highlight reel is the first professional contract he was awarded in 2010 – “something I dreamed of since I was a kid”.

He was part of Gregor Townsend’s brilliant title-winning team in 2015, but he counts that entire season as a highlight. A nine-month-long exorcism for the pain of losing to Leinster in May 2014.

“I think there was a great buzz around. The fact that we got to the final the year before and came up short, we wanted to go one better and we targeted being the first Scottish team to win the Pro12.

“There was some great satisfaction that we had done everything right throughout the whole season and when it came to the play-offs we stepped up another gear. The last three games of the season we had Ulster at home and needed a bonus point victory to have a home semi-final. We did that.

“We played Ulster the following week back here and scored in the last five minutes to win the game. Finn Russell kicked a touchline conversion. Then going on to smash Munster in the final, that was… that month as well as that season was probably my favourite season as a rugby player.”

Stuart Hogg celebrates scoring a try Hogg celebrates a try against Munster in the 2015 final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Their run-in didn’t quite have the drama or Finn Russell this time around, but a trophy would allow this campaign to challenge for the peak of Hogg’s fond memory chart. Doing that will require more than the home advantage promised by 42,000 (and rising) tickets sold for Celtic Park. Glasgow have proven themselves to be an irresistible force through Dave Rennie’s two years in charge at Scotstoun.

Unfortunately, they have often found themselves frustrated by immovable objects.

Last year, they were pitted against eventual European champions Leinster in the Champions Cup pool stages and were subjected to a lesson home and away. This season, the lessons and champs-in-waiting kept coming as they took on Saracens three times. Answer continually came from the English side for all the questions the Warriors’ varied attack posed.

Since exiting Europe at the quarter-final stage, the Scottish side have hit their straps in impressive style and the hosts of this weekend’s final hope to show all the lessons put to use.

“If you give a team like Saracens time and space they are going to hurt you. If you give a team like Leinster time and space they are going to hurt you,” says Hogg.

“We quickly realised how tough it was going to be on the run-in to get ourselves in a position to qualify for play-offs and then get a home semi-final. We knew that we had to have a real clinical edge in our game; that on the back of our solid defence, we really fronted up, our decision-making at the breakdown has been a lot better.

“Our decision-making in attack, we have had that clinical edge, but we have taken the right options.”

There have been a couple of times when things have not gone quite right at training and in games and we have just reflected back on that Saracens game…. when things aren’t quite going to plan we always think back to that game; it refocuses us and gets us back on the right track. We are better because of that game.”

“We have played right on top of teams. We are finding the balance with our kicking game and I think Adam (Hastings), George (Horne) and Ali (Price), Pete Horne, they have put us in the right areas over the last few weeks and it has been a lot tougher for teams to exit.

“We have found ourselves with a good amount of ball but in the right areas of the field. We have kept that scoreboard ticking over nicely and scored some nice tries along the way.”

“I think we have had some good ding-dong battles with Leinster over the years. At times in big games we came up short.

“They came across here last season in the second game of the Champions Cup and bullied us. It was a smash and grab job from them and they took home the victory. It’s going to be a hugely physical battle up front.

“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.”

Stuart Hogg celebrates winning with his children Archie and Olivia Hogg bids farewell to Scotstoun with his children Archie and Olivia, Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s a message Hogg hardly needs reminding of, with only 80 minutes left to run on his time as a Glasgow Warrior.

 ”I am just concentrating on my job for the team and making sure that we have the opportunity to take home the Pro 14 trophy. It’s been a target all season.

“For me it is just about going out there having some fun and doing my job for the team.”

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Sean Farrell

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