GREGOR Townsend was more than happy to praise Stuart Hogg’s try-scoring prowess on Saturday after the full-back touched down for the 25th time in his Test career in Saturday’s 29-20 win over Japan. But, as well as celebrating his captain’s individual virtues with the ball in hand, the head coach was just as keen to stress Hogg’s overall contribution to the Scotland squad both on and off the pitch.

Now 29, the Hawick man has been captain for the past two years, and had been a senior member of the side for some time before that. It took him a few games to become accustomed to his new duties, but Townsend is convinced that he has now grown into the job and also become an all-round better player. 

“I think the longer he’s been in the role, the more he’s been able to enjoy it,” the coach said. “He was really looking forward to getting the opportunity to captain the team. He’s a proud Scot that loves his Scottish rugby history, so he knew what an honour this would be.

“As we know, the first time when you do anything it’s not going to feel natural - or there’s going to be times when it doesn’t feel that it’s going well. But he got through that period. The team got through that period. 

“I think the biggest development Stuart has had in his game is how much he plays for others. As a leader we see how much he brings other people into roles of responsibility and shares that leadership, but I feel the biggest change in the last two years is he puts something on the ball so others can do better.

“And his decision-making has improved so much over the last few years - of what to do, whether to dummy, whether to pass, whether to put a little kick in. So yeah, he’s got an all-round game that makes him a real threat, a real handful for the opposition.

“So he’s created a lot, and I have to say that he’s now getting close to 30 years old and he’s working so hard on his recovery. And you get the rewards for that. He looks sharp, he’s lost a bit of weight, he’s got through these three weeks of Test matches in a similar if not better condition than when he started. That’s a difficult thing on the back of a long season and a Lions tour.

“You saw the joy on his face. He’s loving his rugby just now.” 

Hogg’s two tries against South Africa a week earlier were his 23rd and 24th for Scotland, and brought him level with the record which had been set in the 1930s by Ian Smith, a member of the team that won the Grand Slam in 1925,  and then equalled in the 1990s by Tony Stanger. The full-back’s 25th came just before the half-hour against Japan.

Like Hogg, Stanger, who scored in the 1990 Grand Slam decider against England, comes from Hawick. And although he is himself from Galashiels, Townsend was more than happy to praise his rival town’s contribution to the national team down the decades.

“For a small place in Scotland, it has provided so many players who have played for Scotland,” he reasoned. “It has already had the joint record-holder, a winger. So to have a winger and a full-back from the same club to hold the record together for one week and then for one of them to go on and break the record which had stood for close to 100 years was fantastic.”