Stuart Hogg to Ulster?

The news that Stuart Hogg will play no part in the biggest game in the Glasgae’s franchise’s (ugh) history is surprising, to say the least – he’s one of the few bona fide world class players in Scotland, and should be a key man for the team.  Dress this weekend’s match up any way you like, but Leinster, for all their attacking lumpen-ness, have an excellent pack and a brilliant defensive system – and they keep winning. If Glasgae are to win, they’ll need everything going, yet they have elected to pick Peter Murchie at 15. Amid the fog and intrigue, one thing is obvious – Stuart Hogg has burned every bridge going at Glasgow.

When asked about it, Bob Kearney said:

“I don’t know him too well, great player, seems like a good lad, but there is something going on there behind the scenes. There is a reason for it and I suppose you lads will find out sooner or later.”

Cryptic, and not exactly satisfactory. Tell us more, Bob!  All kinds of rumours are flying around and that doesn’t help – it would be easy to play a dead bat, but he chose not to – what does it all mean? And not knowing him too well? They toured together for the Lions and play the same position (caveated by Hogg’s outhalf cameos in Oz) – you’d think they would know each other well enough – is there distancing there?  Are we trying to read too much into things?  What the hell is going on?!

Ulster are now being linked with a move for Hogg, and, on the field anyway, it would be a reasonable fit for them. The culture shock will be non-existent; Glasgow, Belfast, it’s the same thing, right? And sure, Ulster are stacked outside, but you can never have too many world-class players, and he would be just the type of player that might help them unlock organised defensive systems – their key weakness. Their red zone strike rate was woeful in key games this year, and Hogg might have made the difference versus Globo Gym and Leinster. There’s no substitute for all out gas and Hogg has that matched with no little skill.  He’s a potentially explosive addition.

Hogg’s arrival might put the noses of Craig Gilroy and Darren Cave out of joint a little, but maybe that can be filed under ‘good problems to have’ rather than something to be overly concerned about.  In the era of 20% injury rates, chances are they won’t miss out on too much top grade rugby in any case.  Although it may be worth asking if wee Hoggy can scrum down at tighthead, because that’s where Ulster’s biggest worries are liekly to occur next season.

Question really is this: given Humph’s experience of Ulster’s player factional implosion after 2006, does he want to bring in a guy, who at 21 has managed to alienate his coaching staff so much they would rather not pick him than maximise their chances of winning in the Oar Dee Esh? And for the IRFU, do they really want to pay to train one of their direct opponents’ best players? There’s no real precedent for this sort of signing, unless you count Simon Danielli, which of course we don’t.  Something we aren’t clear on is whether Hogg an NIQ or not – by definition, yes, but he’s more like a Kolpak player in cricket, and Ulster might reasonably think it shouldn’t impact their ability to sign “real” NIQs i.e. those from the Southern Hemisphere.  Even if he does count, because of his calibre, it’s hardly a waste of an NIQ spot.

Hogg is a gem of a player who Ulster would be very fortunate to fall into their hands, but that isn’t the really pertinent question, which relates to his availability and omission from the Warriors side.  Presumably The Humph is on the case.

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30 Comments

  1. Barry

     /  May 29, 2014

    Have to confess my complete ignorance of cricket – Kolpak?

    • Roughly, Stuart Hogg would legally have same entitlements as Irish player because of EUs freedom of movement and work. He couldn’t be counted as NIQ and not signed.

      • From wikipedia, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and South Africa would all come under the Kolpak rulings

        • I wonder … it must apply, its EU law. Has the NIQ rule simply not been rigourously enforced enough to prompt a player to appeal? And the provinces are unlikely to see the union. But it must apply nonetheless

          • O'Riordan

             /  May 29, 2014

            I think the situation is that the IRFU can still decide on a case by case basis who they give a contract to, but they can’t have a hard and fast rule based upon NIE status. In effect, that would discriminate between EU citizens. So they could tell a player that they aren’t going to renew or give a contract because he didn’t fit into their plans for the squad, or budget, or whatever, but if they said they weren’t going to give a contract because he wasn’t NIE, then they could be open to sanctions.

      • Buccaneer

         /  May 29, 2014

        This has come up before, around the time the IRFU proposed the NIQ quotas. Those rules were most certainly illegal under EU law with regards to saffers and islanders. I imagine the provinces told the union to stick it up there ar5e unless they want it brought to a European court and it never went public

        • zdm

           /  May 29, 2014

          This is something that I had asked my other half, who is a barrister, about and she couldn’t see how the NIQ system would be legally enforcable, particularly in the case of a British-listed company (Ulster Rugby) attempting to employ British nationals (e.g. Englishmen, Welshmen) and being told by an essentially foreign parent company (IRFU) that they had to preferentially employ non-UK nationals (Rep of Ireland) ahead of UK nationals.*

          *Personal politics not-withstanding, this would seem, at least superficially, to be how an employment tribunal or a European court would frame the situation.

          • O'Riordan

             /  May 30, 2014

            Eligibility to play rugby for a country does not depend on nationality. Someone could be an Irish citizen and not be eligible to play for Ireland or an Australian citizen and be eligible to play for Ireland. I think the IRB has done this deliberately so international rugby is not a hostage to fortune for how individual countries define nationality.

            A scenario could be two UK citizens, one eligible for Ireland, the other not (based upon IRB rules) and the NIE person told they can’t get a provincial contract because they are NIE. They could have grounds for discrimination based upon the EU view that eligibility for a particular country is not a valid reason to exclude someone from a provincial or club team.

            Clearly, international teams are different when it comes to eligibility so international sport is an exception. The IRFU may view the provinces as feeders to the international team, but the reality is the provinces aren’t international teams so are subject to the same employment law as any other business.

          • International sport is specifically exempted from the Kolpak ruling actually – good addition, thanks O’Riordan

  2. O'Riordan

     /  May 29, 2014

    I haven’t trawled the various rugby boreds for rumours why Hogg is persona non grata with the Weegies but is it possible that Ulster are being touted as a possible destination by Hogg’s agent to bump up his value in a bidding war amongst other clubs?

    Humphreys has shown himself to be pretty astute when it comes to judging if a player will fit into the culture of a squad – he saw what happened when the Ulster team fell to bits in the Mark McCall era as a result of certain personalities (allegedly). Afoa wasn’t a resounding success – one good year, two not good years… but you can’t predict everything in life.

    A number of Ulster’s foreign recruits have been god-fearing, hard-working Saffas and that will take you a good way down the road, but maybe they have lacked a bit of divil that Hogg could provide (and the devil has all best tunes anyway 😉 )

    The other angle for conspiracy theorists is the Jared Payne to 13 angle. This would leave Ulster light at fullback so maybe the IRFU would bless a NIE at fullback given Ulster would be doing their bit to supply a BOD replacement. Nobody seems to know if Payne himself wants to play at 13, or he is being nudged in that direction by the IRFU, but Anscombe’s selection of Payne there in the back line for the Pro12 semi against Leinster was somewhat of a bizarre decision to experiment with silverware at stake.

    The whole NIE limit is an artificial restriction of the IRFU anyway. As an EU citizen Hogg can play anywhere in Europe he can get a contract.

    • Thanks O’Riordan – lots of interesting points raised. The whole thing raises more questions than answers at the moment and we’ll just have to wait to see how it all pans out over the coming weeks and months.

    • Stephen

       /  May 29, 2014

      O’R – at a recent Q&A session with the Ulster Supporters Club, Anscombe said (and I’m quoting as accurately as I can here) ‘Jared sees himself as an outside centre.’

  3. O'Riordan

     /  May 29, 2014

    Just to add, the IRFU have gone oh-so-quiet about the NIE restrictions they announced back at the end of 2011. If the IRFU discriminated between EU citizens, they would be leaving themselves open to sanctions so it looks like they have gone away from having hard and fast rules about who gets a contract and who doesn’t.

  4. Matt

     /  May 29, 2014

    If there’s a chance to sign him alongside keeping all of Payne, Cave and Gilroy then brilliant, I doubt he could really do that much harm off-field compared to Big John spending most of his time in airports. But if this meant losing Cave so that Jared could play 13, then I’d rather not. Cave remains by far our best 13, and Payne should focus on by far his best position of 15.
    A difficult question would be whether you’d take Hogg as a replacement for Payne, and at the minute I’d say yes, maybe, just about. Hogg may lack Payne’s kicking and passing, but he’s certainly faster and a better fielder, and has the crucial advantage of not wanting to allegedly mouth off to the coach about playing at 13 because he’s the heir apparent.

  5. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  May 29, 2014

    Ulster’s a perfect fit given his family connections to George Best (his granny’s granny was a Best don’t you know). What could possibly go wrong???

  6. Leinsterlion

     /  May 29, 2014

    You sum it perfectly, you can never have enough world class players, its up to Cave and Gilroy to front up.

    Hopefully this revives the Payne to Leinster movement, they can boost their god fearing Saffa stocks with our own lightly used, full back/center/winger Kirchner,(sold as seen, no refunds) as a makeweight.

    • SportingBench

       /  May 29, 2014

      Thanks for the offer but we’ll take Moore, please

      • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

         /  May 29, 2014

        Mike Ross might work as a stop-gap solution? Sure he’s 34 but he’s relatively low mileage – might be happier with a year as Ulster first choice & maybe stretch it to two? Gives time to find / groom a replacement.

        • Stephen

           /  May 29, 2014

          Did WoC not have a post (a good while back) about Ross, along with Pienaar, being one of the most-fielded players in the northern hemisphere?

          • We did – last June(ish) – Andy McGeady helped us out on it (was a joint post)

          • Hairy Naomh Mhuire

             /  May 29, 2014

            Had a quick look for it, couldn’t find it but won’t argue! Just assumed that a guy who didn’t really get started as a pro to mid-20’s would have more left in the tank than most 34 year olds?

          • Stephen

             /  June 1, 2014

            I think when Ross came to Leinster from whatever Premiership club he was with (he came after the 2009 Grand Slam in order to compete for a national spot), he swiftly became not a TH prop, but *the* TH prop, for both Leinster and Ireland. Any replacements/second string were dung, reflected in the fact that Ulster/Munster have both had to externally recruit TH props in the last 5-6 years.

            That’s hopefully beginning to change (short-term with Ross, longer-term with the project signing Herbst although Ross will be retired by then presumably), but Ross has been flogged.

    • zdm

       /  May 29, 2014

      AYe sure the only reason world-class players would opt to play for Ulster is if they are fond of a bit of bible thumping isn’t it? Otherwise they’d be straight on the A1 to The City That Never Sleeps to while away their time sinking pints in Coppers of a Friday.

      I can just see the next NI tourist board advert – sweeping panorama of the Glens of Antrim, close up shot of Darren Cave doing a bit of exploring at Marble Arch (no pun intended, honest) before cutting to Armagh Cathedral, Anscombe trussed up as the Archbishop, Muller his supplicant priestly assistant and Pienaar the altar-boy holding aloft the good book while Marc paraphrases Leviticus “for it is an abomination that ye loose to the sodemites and lady boys from the south” while the rest of the squad lines up to have the length of their shorts measured from the knee to make sure they don’t offend the decency of the local pastor.

  7. Kelly Peters

     /  May 29, 2014

    Lads could we all be looking at this the wrong way? Maybe Hogg has pulled a Juan Martin Hernandez (now there’s a good-face), is refusing to play 15 and is demanding to play 10. Then in Ulster Wee Paddy has decided to pack it in and compete in next years X-Factor (it’s all lip-syncing these days) so Ulster are bringing him in to run the show in Ravenhill.

  8. At the right price Hogg is definitely a player you would want in your team. However as you noted Ulster would be much better off working on strengthening their depth at prop (both sides), and having a nine that they trust to bring off the bench in knock out games. With Ferris likely gone or playing less than 10 games a season Ulster will probably look increasingly at Henderson at 6 imo so a second row is needed sooner rather than later.

  9. Yossarian

     /  May 29, 2014

    Hogg signed a two year deal last year so compensation would have to be paid potentially for him to move on. There is also a potential fullback signing from South Africa http://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/ulster-set-sights-on-springbok-star-ludik-30313663.html
    Are the IRFU paving the way for these deals(they have to sanction all transfers to the provinces) to accommodate a player transfer out of the province? There is a surplus of outside backs if these signings go ahead. Cave,Marshall,Payne,olding centre options, gilroy,Trimble,bowe on wings and maybe Hogg,ludik at fullback. Will the IRFU want some of these centre options getting starting rugby elsewhere? One of those centres to leinster or Munster maybe?

  10. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  May 30, 2014

    Lads if Ulster got Hogg it would be hard not to see an Ulster back head south to Leinster.

    You guys are loaded up there and we are fairly wafer. Furthermore Hogg can play 13 too, very well I might add. He’s the kinda guy Leinster would sacrifice a nut for (attitude problem withstanding)

  11. O'Riordan

     /  May 30, 2014

    Louis Ludik confirmed as joining Ulster so that’s the end of the “Stuart Hogg to Ulster” story anyway!

    However probably not the end of the somewhat bizarre Stuart Hogg story…

  12. L.P.O.

     /  May 30, 2014

    A quick note on the ‘Oar Dee Esh’… I’m a big supporter of most of your running gags, but that one falls flat on its face, mainly for two reasons… Firstly, the mispronunciation of the letter R is far more prevalent in rural areas, and especially so those of a certain southern province. While the comical aspirant sound after the letter S is quintessential to most impressions people do of an Ulster accent (the rather unamusing Risteard Cooper’s Ulsterman being an example, before he started hawking insurance).

    So, in short, of the multitude of people that I know who attend matches there, none of them pronounce/mispronounce either the letter R or S in that fashion. If even one of them did, or it represented a stereotypical minority, I’d say fair play. But as it stands it doesn’t work and is really pretty cringe-worthily unfunny.

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