IT INVARIABLY feels a bit weird when a player turns out against a former club with which he has been closely associated, and Stuart Hogg’s appearance for Exeter against Glasgow Warriors on Saturday will be no exception.

Think Denis Law playing for Manchester City against United. Steven Pressley playing for Celtic against Hearts. Maurice Johnston playing for anyone against almost anyone else.

Actually no, let’s keep this in perspective: when Hogg plays for the Chiefs against the Warriors in a Champions Cup pool game, it will not feel as peculiar or as controversial as some of the big transfers in football have done over the years. Rivalries in rugby do not have the same intensity.

But you can be sure, all the same, that a lot of Glasgow fans will experience envy or a sense of loss when they see Hogg play against them for the first time since his summer move south.


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Along with Finn Russell, now also departed, Hogg epitomised the buccaneering style of play that won the Warriors the PRO12 title back in 2015. The aim this season remains to play to that style, but it was noticeable in Saturday’s first pool match against Sale Sharks at Scotstoun that the cutting edge was not nearly as sharp as it was.

Yes, Tommy Seymour is a more than adequate replacement for Hogg at full-back and DTH van der Merwe’s try showed he is still an exceptional finisher. And Glasgow did win the game, 13-7.

But Sale were missing quite a few of their biggest names. They were big and beefy and put up a blockade defence that thwarted many of Glasgow’s attempts to play expansively, but they were limited in ambition and ability.

For them to restrict the home side to one try and come away with a losing bonus point was therefore a worrying sign.

The Warriors of old – or rather, of a season or two ago – would have swept Sale aside. But, then, the Warriors of old had Hogg and Russell and also Leone Nakarawa in the pack to ensure the wizardry was not confined to the main playmaker positions.

Of course, it was Hogg’s ability to sprinkle stardust over a match – besides the more humble virtues such as solidity in defence – that attracted Exeter and others to him in the first place. Rob Baxter, the Chiefs’ head coach, explained as much recently, spelling out exactly why his club’s gain is a serious loss to Glasgow.

“I think there’s two things that you need from quality players,” Baxter said. “You need a little bit of cutting edge when the opportunity’s there, but you also need that solidity in what they do on a day-to-day basis, and Stuart’s got a lot of good qualities there as a full-back as well.


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“It’s a little bit tough now – Stuart’s first game was at Bath in a gale and constant rain, and his job as a full-back was probably more just to catch ball and kick it, and his influence is going to be limited. That won’t be the same in the latter stages of either Europe or the Premiership when big games come around, and I think this is the decision you’ve got to make [when signing new players] – you’ve got to try to decide do you want to win big games, and maybe the gamble you take is you have that one less forward who may be a bigger influence in wet-weather games.

“That’s what we decided to do with Stuart. We decided to go for match-winners to give us that bit of cutting edge in big games where maybe we’ve just come up that little bit short.”

Glasgow are not entirely devoid of game-changers, and right now scrum-half George Horne, to cite one example, is in the sort of form to cause real problems to the best defence. But, while Exeter have clearly taken a step up in quality by signing Hogg, the loss of the 27-year-old just as clearly spells regression for the Warriors.

Following the win over Sale, Van der Merwe talked of planning to wind up Hogg about his “terrible” hair – after balding prematurely, the full-back had a bit of a rug rethink last year and got a hair transplant. It’s lighthearted stuff, but you suspect that, in the end, it will be Hogg and Exeter who have the last laugh.