Scotland may be under represented in the British and Irish Lions squad this summer, but former Hawick standout Stuart Hogg is aiming to make as much noise as possible during the tour of New Zealand.
Hogg is one of only three Dark Blues players selected by Warren Gatland. Fellow Glasgow Warrior Tommy Seymour and Clermont Auverge-bound Greig Laidlaw, who was a late call-up when England scrum-half Ben Youngs withdrew due to family reasons, join Hogg on the flight.
Hogg, who along with Seymour and Laidlaw, will start the first match of the tour against New Zealand Provincial Barbarians this weekend, said : “It is starting to feel real.”
The trip to Down Under will be Hogg’s second with the Lions, following his role with the 2013 tour winners in Australia, while it will be a first for Seymour and Laidlaw.
Hogg was a rookie during that 2013 tour, but since then has developed into one of the world’s most dangerous attacking full-backs, picking up a Guinness Pro12 winners medal plus two RBS 6 Nations player of the tournament awards. Hogg never played a minute of Test match rugby during the 2013 tour, but that could change this time around as his form for Scotland and Glasgow suggests he could be in line for a Test jersey.
“On our last tour, I was really young and inexperienced and didn’t have a huge influence on the tour,” added Hogg.
“I have learned a great deal since then and I believe I am in a good place. We’ll be going out to make our nation of Scotland proud, but everyone in the British Isles and Ireland as well.”
While Hogg has been the pride of Scotland for much of the past two years, fellow Warrior Seymour is similarly gathering support to be the first Scot to start a Lions test since Tom Smith in the 2001 tour of Australia.
Seymour has been singled out by former Bath, England and Lions stand-off Stuart Barnes, who suggested the Glasgow winger could feature in the June 24 Test opener against the All Blacks instead of team-mate Hogg.
Barnes believes Gatland may prefer Welshman Leigh Halfpenny in the red No.15 jersey to Hogg and thinks Seymour has the best chance of a Scot to start.
“I sometimes think south of the Border I’m the only person who knows who Tommy Seymour is,” said Barnes.
“I think Seymour is the Lions’ best option on the wing, right now I’d play him on the right and move [George] North to the left.”
Former Jed-Forest playmaker Laidlaw is unlikely to feature in any of the three Tests unless the injury bug bites. Wales and Ospreys scrum-half Rhys Webb is the unanimous starter with Ireland and Munster’s Conor Murray deputising.
The squad departed for New Zealand on Monday following their Sunday night farewell dinner at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London.
Flying from Heathrow the team landed in New Zealand on Wednesday – after stopping overnight in Melbourne – leaving just three days to adjust to the climate and time difference before taking to the field for their tour opener against the New Zealand Barbarians on Saturday in Whangarei.
In all, the Lions will play 10 matches in six weeks – a schedule former 2001 Lions and 2011 World Cup-winning All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry called “suicidal”.
Can this incarnation of the Lions win for the first time in New Zealand since 1971 and end the All Blacks 45-test winning streak at home? Who knows but it should be a fun June and July watching some of the best rugby players of this generation going head-to-head.
Lions tour to New Zealand 2017 fixtures
Game 1: Saturday, June 3 vs New Zealand Barbarians in Whangarei.
Game 2: Wednesday, June 7 vs Blues in Auckland.
Game 3: Saturday, June 10 vs Crusaders in Christchurch.
Game 4: Tuesday, June 13 vs Highlanders in Dunedin.
Game 5: Tuesday, June 17 vs Maori All Blacks in Rotorua.
Game 6: Saturday, June 20 vs Chiefs in Hamilton.
Game 7: Saturday, June 24 vs All Blacks in Auckland.
Game 8: Tuesday, June 27 vs Hurricanes in Wellington.
Game 9: Saturday, July 1 vs All Blacks in Wellington.
Game 10: Saturday, July 8 vs All Blacks in Auckland.