SINCE he made his first few appearances for Scotland more than a decade ago, Stuart Hogg clearly had the star quality required to become a regular for the national team.

Barring serious injury, it was obvious that sooner or later the man from Hawick would reach the 100-cap landmark – the milestone that he will achieve this afternoon in the Six Nations game against Ireland.

Yesterday, however, the full-back insisted that, even once that century of appearances seemed a realistic goal, his real target had not been 100 caps, but 53. The number might appear arbitrary, but the reasoning behind it is testament to Hogg’s commitment to his home town and to his enduring interest in rugby history.

“When you get one, you want two and then three and so forth,” he explained after taking part in the squad’s eve-of-match run-through at BT Murrayfield. “But when I started playing regular rugby all I wanted was 53.

“And people used to ask me, ‘Why the hell do you want 53?’ and it was because that would make me the most-capped Hawick player, overtaking Tony Stanger, Colin Deans and Jim Renwick. These little things start to play on your mind a little bit.

“The game is ever-changing. It took Jim 13 years to get 52 caps. The game is completely different to what it was back then.

“For me, every opportunity you get to represent your country, there’s no better feeling. It’s a feeling that I love and I’ll miss when I’m gone. And it’s a feeling right now that I’ll never ever take for granted. This jersey and this country means the world to me. And I’ll do everything I can to make sure I represent it in the best way.”

Donna Kennedy, the former Scotland Women No.8, is the nation’s outright record-holder with 115. In the men’s game, only three players reached the century before Hogg – Sean Lamont, Chris Paterson and Ross Ford, the leader on 110.

But those three, like Kennedy, retired some time ago, so Hogg, still only 30, has time on his side as he continues his irresistible climb towards a national record. With the World Cup coming up this year, he should break that new ground at some point in 2024, and could easily end up with a total closer to 150.

The former captain will have no time to muse on such pleasant possibilities this afternoon, when he will be able to look no further ahead than the game against an Ireland side who are five points clear at the top of the Championship table.

But if Scotland do win, they will have lifted the Triple Crown for the first time since the Grand Slam year of 1990, providing Hogg with the one honour that has been missing from his CV. And if they do that, they will be back in the running for a crack at the Six Nations title itself, with only a home game against Italy to come next Saturday.

He has already toured three times with the British & Irish Lions, he has twice been named player of the Championship, has captained his country, and has won both the English Premiership and the European Champions Cup with his club, Exeter Chiefs. But although he has already achieved so much, that glaring omission is still nagging away at him.

Having said that, he believes that the current team are better placed to win a trophy than any of the predecessors he has been involved with.

“I think this is my 12th attempt at the Six Nations, and only the first time I have been in a position to win a Triple Crown,” he said. “It just shows how far we have come as a squad and as a team, and we are moving towards something special. I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think the boys have a huge amount of trust and confidence in each other.

“I’ve been around a long time in this team, and that’s something that we’ve not necessarily lacked, but we more believe in it now. As squads go, I think this is the tightest squad I’ve ever been involved in, and one that I’m very much looking forward to being a part of for a long time, hopefully.”

An emotionally committed player, and an optimist by nature, Hogg has been around long enough to know how tough it will be today to get the better of opponents who are top of the World Rugby rankings, and who have already cemented their status as the best team in the planet during this tournament by beating their closest rivals, France.

“Ireland have picked a huge amount of experience for this game and that’s what you want to play,” he concluded. “You want to play against the best players and the best team, and to have Ireland here, the No.1 ranked team in world rugby, is just quality for us.

“I think every game that you get an opportunity to play against Ireland, you know it’s going to be incredibly physical and challenging. I think they’re one of the smartest rugby teams I’ve ever come across.

“Ireland are up there for a reason and their record speaks volumes. Myself and the rest of the boys respect them and admire them hugely, but we also know we can do a job on them and that’s one that we’re excited for.”