IT is almost 500 miles from Murrayfield to Exeter, so the journey between the two places can be a lonely one. No wonder, then that one big benefit Sam Skinner sees in having Stuart Hogg joining him in the English West Country next season is to have a travel buddy on those long, regular training trips to Scotland.

“I’m sure he will get some nice freebies on the way so I’ll stand in the slips and take whatever I can get,” Skinner joked as he prepared to make the trip back south after pitching up at Murrayfield to help launch the Scotland team’s new regular-season training kit at a public training session on the back pitches.

Though there may be some personal benefits, the real plus in having Hogg joining him at Exeter Chiefs will be the galvanising effect he should have on the club, who have spent the last season showing they have enough class to compete at the top level but not the extra needed to clinch titles.

“As a club, we just need that top two inches to finish games off,”

Skinner said. “Big games like Munster away at Thomond Park [the final pool game of the Heineken Champions Cup, a 9-7 defeat] and obviously the [Premiership] final [where they let an 11-point lead slip, losing to Saracens 34-37]. We just need that extra killer instinct to take some trophies home.

“He [Hogg] will be massive, in terms of leadership and driving the standards we need. Key moments, a high ball here, a pass here or there, he will give us those finishing touches, which is really exciting.

“I am excited for him, he has already met the guys. It should be an exciting couple of years. He spoke to me a fair bit about it. I was thrilled for him and excited for us to have such a world-class player.”

It will also give Skinner more of a chance to develop his own game at Exeter, which saw him become more and more of a central player, slotting at lock as they marched through the league to the final.

It was enough to bring him to Scotland coach Gregor Townsend’s attention and earn him a debut cap last autumn despite having come through as an English Under 20s player.

That said, his Ayrshire father does seem to have been a significant influence and his earliest World Cup memory is of watching Scotland as an eight year old.

“Scotland were playing Fiji in the 2003 World Cup and we just won,” he recalled. “I think it was in the early hours of the morning and we scored a maul try [by Tom Smith] in the corner and Chris Paterson slotted the goal for us to go through. That was as early as it gets for me. That was a pretty cool moment.”

Since his debut, Skinner has played in every Scotland game he has been available for, though an early ankle injury against Italy restricted his Six Nations involvement to a few minutes in that game before he was rushed back for the Calcutta Cup.

The problem for him is that though he is adamant he is a specialist lock, his caps have come in the back row. He is the first to realise both the

benefits and the dangers of that.

“It’s more a case of me being second row who can play in the back row, rather than the other way round,” he said. “Having said that, I’ve played more in the back row for Scotland so far. I’m just happy to play wherever they pick me. Obviously I want to nail down one spot and I would prefer that to be in the second row.

“It’s all a new experience for me and one I’m definitely enjoying. We’ve had the off-season now and we’re all rested up. Camp’s been good fun, it’s good to be back.

“I had a couple of extra weeks’ break, just because my season finished later with Exeter, but I came in a little bit early just to join the camp in Inverness and then I joined the boys in the Portugal camp as well.

“We have a lot of depth. We had a big injury-hit during the Six Nations but now you look around the squad and we’ve got three excellent sides who could play at any point in a World Cup. There’s a lot of competition and we feel like we’re in a really healthy spot right now.”