IN the dark days that followed Scotland’s deeply disappointing World Cup flop, different players coped in different ways. Three of the older heads in Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and Tommy Seymour decided the time was right to hang up their international boots, while WP Nel, Jonny Gray and skipper Stuart McInally were given extended breaks so that their bodies and minds could fully recover.

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There was no such respite for Stuart Hogg, who flew straight back from Japan into a new challenge with Exeter Chiefs, and has since played 12 games in 13 weeks for his new club. Yet, despite this exhausting schedule, the full-back had no interest in shelving thoughts of what needed to happen next with Scotland in order to get the team back in track. On the contrary, the 27-year-old was determined to make sure that he would play a key role in helping head coach Gregor Townsend address the situation so volunteered himself as the next captain.

“We had a conversation about it after the World Cup, I’ve been involved in the leadership group for the past four or five seasons now and I’m very, very passionate about playing for Scotland,” explained the 27-year-old full-back at yesterday’s 2020 Six Nations launch in London. “I want to make a difference and I said to Gregor that I would be keen to be captain.

“It is a huge honour first and foremost to play for Scotland, but to captain the side is something I’m very much looking forward to. It is an opportunity to lead the team and make sure we’re doing everything right on and off the field to ultimately go into a Test match with confidence.”

Townsend said that he was highly encouraged by Hogg’s eagerness to do the job, and that the Borderer was the outstanding candidate for the role, but added that making the appointment had not been a straight-forward decision.

“I remember at Glasgow the first time Stuart was in a leadership group he maybe wasn’t so keen to be part of it,” said the coach. “He has grown into the leadership role, whether that’s a tactical one, or what it means to play for your country, or what to do in the training week.

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“I thought Stuart was excellent in our World Cup camp with the energy he brought every day and how that inspired others around him, and with how he connected with others. He has knowledge of the game and he is our most experienced player. Those factors were all huge positives.

“I still thought after the World Cup that it was something he might not want to do. To know that he wanted to do it was step one; step two was talking about it and finding out how he would approach the captaincy and how he would bring the best out of other leaders and other players in the team.

“Most important was that being captain wouldn’t affect how he played. Stuart has played very well for Scotland in the past and has been in great form for Exeter. Those things matched up really well. There will be tough times and challenges as captain.”

Hogg admits that his previous reluctance to take on more of a leadership role was down to his desire to concentrate on his own game, but believes he now has the maturity to cope with the extra burden.

“I felt that with that bit of added pressure I might crumble under it, but Gregor believed in me back then and put me in the leadership group, and ever since then I’ve really enjoyed being involved: having a say in what happens in terms of training and how we play, and also trying to get the best out of everyone else,” he explained.

“The thing for me is that I need to be playing my best rugby,” he continued. “We need to have everything right on and off the field, with everybody enjoying themselves, and ultimately winning games of rugby – because that’s what we’re here to do.”

Hogg is likely to be in action for Exeter Chiefs against Sale Sharks in the English Premeirship on Saturday, just seven days ahead of Scotland’s Six Nations kick off against Ireland in Dublin. It is not ideal, but he believes he has generally benefitted from the change of environment.

“As much as it was tough to leave Glasgow last season it is one of the best decisions I have made,” he insisted. “I am enjoying my rugby and my new lifestyle down there.

“I want to be constantly learning and improving and I want to get the best out of myself at every opportunity, so it has been refreshing. I think we are sitting in a very good place in Europe and we are doing okay in the Premiership and we are playing some nice rugby – it has been a very good move for me.

“I have played a lot of rugby this season but I feel great – like I can play every single week,” he said. “I'm excited about the challenges ahead and testing myself every single week against the best in Europe, the best in England and from next week the best on the international stage. I just love playing rugby.

“This is my dream job. I won’t take anything for granted and whenever I get the opportunity to play, I want to express myself. You can see that in my performances so far this season.”