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The job of the long-distance kicker is a lonely one . . .

Sunday afternoon at Murrayfield.

Scotland against Ireland. The game clocks on the north and south stands have stopped on 80 minutes and Scotland trail by two points. They take the ball into a ruck a yard inside their own half, an Irish forward dives in illegally, and referee Wayne Barnes' arm shoots up.

Penalty. The last chance to steal victory. There is no time to go for a lineout, so the only realistic option is a kick at goal. But who takes it? Greig Laidlaw does not have the range and Ruaridh Jackson is not exactly a distance specialist either. Has Stuart Hogg's moment arrived?

Duncan Hodge looks just a little queasy when the scenario is spelled out. Hogg can belt a rugby ball further than some of us go on holiday, but there is a world of difference between doing it as a training ground party trick and pulling it off in the nerve-shredding surroundings of a Six Nations match. Hogg has looked fearless in the tournament to date, but would Hodge have the bottle to ask him to do it?

The goal-kicking specialist in the Scotland backroom team hesitates a little. And then a little more. Pushed on the matter, he finally gives his answer. "Well," he says carefully, "If it's outwith Greig's range and within Hoggy's range and it's the last play of the game, then potentially . . ."

It might not be the most ringing endorsement ever provided, but Hodge may be forgiven for taking the cautious approach. He was not always Scotland's first-choice kicker during a Test career that brought him 26 caps between 1997 and 2002, but he's been there and done that often enough to understand the pressures.

He knows what it is like to stand in the baleful glare of the international rugby spotlight. He knows the loneliness of the long-distance kicker.

Which is one thing former kicking guru Dave Alred never did. Alred, renowned for his work with Jonny Wilkinson, has since transferred his attentions to grooving Luke Donald's golf swing, and recently suggested that a background as a kicker is no advantage when it comes to passing information on. It's all about the inner game, claimed Alred, about mental repetition.

Hodge's eyes widen when the point comes up. "I think it [experience] is relevant," he says. "You know what it feels like to take a kick when conditions are not for you or it's a difficult moment in the game or when somebody has handed you the ball with two minutes to go. That experience may not get used but it is relevant for me as a coach to know what the kickers are going through."

Hodge was first brought into the Scotland camp by former head coach Frank Hadden just before the 2007 World Cup. He arrived just at the point when Chris Paterson was embarking on the run of 33 consecutive successful kicks, mantaning a 100% record through that tournament and the following year's Six Nations. To Hodge's credit, he did not try to claim any kudos for Paterson's streak, although Paterson himself spoke highly of his contribution.

Now, though, it appears his remit has widened. Brought into camp on a full-time basis by Andy Robinson nine months ago, he survived the Englishman's departure at the end of November and is now one of the most experienced members of the Scotland backroom team. And as interim head coach Scott Johnson is still getting to know the players, he has expanded Hodge's brief beyond kicking alone.

That might, in itself, be significant. With Michael Bradley on his way out, Edinburgh are on the lookout for a coach at the moment, and Hodge could well come into the frame. He ducked direct questions on that matter yesterday, but he was happy to stress that his coaching experience runs deeper than many acknowledge. If his hand is on the tiller as Scotland's fortunes improve then his candidacy would look all the stronger as a result.

Small wonder he should want to focus on the tasks in hand. Specifically, that of backing up a heartening win against Italy 11 days ago with another against injury-ravaged Ireland this weekend.

The Irish have already lost the services of Gordon D'Arcy, Jonathan Sexton, Mike McCarthy, Chris Henry and Simon Zebo through injury, Cian Healy has been suspended and there are doubts over the fitness of Donnacha Ryan and Brian O'Driscoll. Has it been difficult keeping a lid on confidence in the Scottish squad.

Apparently not. "Injuries in Ireland are not a concern of ours," Hodge says. "We will prepare for Ireland like any other team. It's about what we do.

"Ireland have lost a couple of players but I don't think they have suddenly become a bad side. They are weakened but that does not mean they are not very, very good. We have to back up how we performed against Italy. Who's playing and who's not playing for Ireland is not going to make a massive difference. They are going to be an extremely good side whoever is on the pitch on Sunday."

Hodge admits Scottish tails are up, but says there is a strong work ethic in the squad. "There's a lot of confidence and as coaches we are trying to reinforce positives and good behaviours, but also point out the negatives," he says." That doesn't change from week to week. Win or lose we are trying to highlight the good and improve the bad. We have to keep improving. Every team improves week to week. Ireland, historically, have been a stronger team than Italy. I think we need to play better than we played in our last game."

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