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.