Tessa Lieven Wright weighs up whether the Glasgow Warriors and indeed Scotland, will lose one of its most beloved sons.
After years of wooden spoon disappointment, it is now acknowledged that Scottish Rugby’s luck is changing. A new, exciting generation of players have emerged forming a team bursting with individual talent and the potential to match the world’s greatest.
Stuart Hogg is arguably the embodiment of this team. His skilful play has earned him international respect as the best attacking number 15 in world rugby. With call-ups to two British and Irish Lions tours and twice the winner of Six Nations Player of the Tournament, there is no doubt he is now one of the greats. It cannot be doubted every club manager would love to see him leading their attack. With his contract ending with the Warriors next summer and a number of French clubs looking to offer him lucrative contracts, Hogg’s future in Glasgow is far from certain.
Born and raised in the Scottish borders, Hogg personifies the long tradition of rugby in Scotland. He has followed in the footsteps of Scottish greats by starting his amateur career at Hawick RFC before joining the Warriors in 2011. Despite huge success for the Glasgow Warriors, his world-renowned performances have come internationally. His individual impact on games such as Scotland’s historic victory against France in 2016 has made him a vital part of Gregor Townsend’s setup. His passion for the team cannot be questioned; one only needs to watch his emotional celebrations at the end of the Calcutta Cup victory at Murrayfield to appreciate what Scotland means to him.
Obviously, a player can be passionate and move overseas, but Hogg seems to have heavily invested himself in Scotland and specifically Glasgow. He is, after all, a part owner of West End restaurant Finsbay Flatiron and is always keen to support local businesses and rugby initiatives around the city. While it might seem odd for someone so much a part of Glasgow to choose to leave, the chance for a new experience might be too tempting to ignore.
As rugby teams begin to profit from multi-million pound sponsorship deals, the transfer market grows. Big money contracts are emerging from French clubs and this has prompted world-famous players to ply their trade on the Gallic shores. The last four years have seen a trio of Hogg’s international teammates complete transfers to France, the most debated one being Finn Russell’s switch from the Warriors to Racing 92 this year. Hogg is a huge asset to the Glasgow Warriors with over 100 caps and 200 points to his name. If Hogg was persuaded by rumoured seven-figure sum offers from Montpellier could be a huge loss for the club. Vern Cotter, the head coach of the French club and Hogg’s ex-Scotland coach is apparently keen to reunite with him and make (him the highest paid player in European history.)
However, there are risks that would come with making the switch to an overseas club. The general agreement in rugby is that players are more protected if they play their club career in their native country. While the Scottish Rugby Union is not as strict as Wales in sanctioning its players for moving abroad, they seem reluctant to support the decision. There are issues with players securing release from their clubs in time to join their national team and injuries frequently occur when the clubs do not allow the players to rest between international games.
2019 will be a huge year for international rugby and the upcoming World Cup in Japan will undoubtedly be a factor in Hogg’s mind. Realistically, this is a serious opportunity for Scotland and the expectation placed on this young team's shoulders will be greater than ever before. Part of Scotland’s cohesion comes from the fact that almost all their players are split between Edinburgh and Glasgow and therefore their club connections bond them as a national unit. Should their talisman move away months before the competition it could shake this unit. Though this will be an important consideration for Hogg, his decision would not harm his chance of starting for Scotland at the World Cup. When making his team selections, Gregor Townsend will definitely have Hogg at the forefront of his mind and his importance to the team in Japan cannot be undervalued.
Of course, Hogg’s recent injury and likely unavailability until the Six Nations may mean that all bets are off until the end of the season. However, should he choose to move, it is realistic to assume the motivation might not be the seven-figure sum but instead a desire to experience a different kind of challenge. Many people dream of moving abroad for work and why would he be any different - especially when the financial benefits are so great? I am sure that Glaswegians would hope he chooses to stay and light up Scotstoun on cold, Friday evenings. But whatever his decision, pubs across Scotland can be sure there are many more years of Stuart Hogg masterclasses still to come from Murrayfield and maybe finally a trophy to show for all of it.