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Hogg ready to step up to playmaker role

The Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg has said he is ready and willing to move to fly-half in the national team after two consecutive RBS 6 Nations Championship defeats.

Scotland's lineout performance was abject at Murrayfield on Saturday. Picture: SNS
Scotland's lineout performance was abject at Murrayfield on Saturday. Picture: SNS

The Scots suffered the humiliation of failing to score a single point as they went down 20-0 to England at Murrayfield on Saturday. It was the first time since 1978 that they had failed to get off the mark in a Calcutta Cup clash, although it was the second zero return for coach Scott Johnson in four games following November's 28-0 loss to South Africa.

Johnson made it clear that changes are afoot ahead of Scotland's next match, the 22 February meeting with Italy in Rome, but he warned supporters not to expect the sort of radical surgery some might want. "I will tinker with the team," said Johnson. "I am not going to make massive changes. If it needs to be tinkered with, I will tinker."

Attention is likely to focus on the performance of Ross Ford, the hooker who was held to be chiefly accountable for a lineout performance in which Scotland turned over possession on their own throw five times - a 42% failure rate. Failings in that area also cast doubts on the positions of locks Jim Hamilton and Tim Swinson.

If Johnson decides to go beyond tinkering, then Hogg's move to the playmaking berth could be the most radical course of action. The coach has made it clear he would like to see the 21-year-old in a more influential position, and he has the confidence of knowing that Hogg played at fly-half twice on the Lions tour to Australia last summer.

"I would love to step up there," said Hogg. "Whatever is best for the team. Especially in games like that, when you're not getting the ball at 15, stepping up to 10 would be the ideal opportunity. But whatever the gaffer says goes. We'll just listen to him.

"If I have to step up and start then I'll do that. It is whatever Johnno says and whatever [backs coach] Duncan Hodge wants. Ultimately, it's their decision.

"I had a chat at the start of the Six Nations. There could be a chance I would step up to 10. It put a smile on my face and I said to Johnno that I would do whatever was best for the team. But fair play to Duncan [Weir, who played fly-half on Saturday] because he's done well in the past couple of games. It would be rude to take him away

from that."

Hogg also admitted that the condition of the Murrayfield pitch, weakened by its parasitic worm infestation, had contributed to his frustration late in the game and that his anger had boiled over as a consequence.

"I did lose the head a couple of times," he said. "That was bad, but it was just really frustrating. You want to play running rugby but then you get that pitch out there, which is diabolical to be honest. We were struggling straightaway.

"It was definitely a frustrating afternoon. We couldn't get the ball in the right areas and the set piece wasn't working, while England held the ball for long periods and played in the right area - something we just failed to do. Fair play to England, they disrupted our set piece, disrupted a lot of our ball. The set piece is where it all begins and, without that platform, it makes the rest of the game really, really difficult."

Prior to the game, the expectation had been that the surface, made worse by Saturday's rain, would favour Scotland, but England coach Stuart Lancaster suggested that the opposite had happened. "Scotland want to play a multiphase game," said Lancaster. "They are certainly trying to develop that, but the weather probably didn't help them in that regard. It was not a day for attacking rugby."

Debutant flanker Chris Fusaro, who took the place of ousted captain Kelly Brown, admitted that emotions had got the better of him at the start, but that he had enjoyed the experience, despite the outcome.

"Obviously, there's different pressure playing international rugby, especially when it's your first cap," said Fusaro. "What I tried to do was just focus on my own job. It was a very tough, physical battle. I am sore and knackered now. It went by in

a bit of a blur."

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