Rarely have England lined up against Scotland at Twickenham knowing that the opposition line-up includes perhaps Europe’s — if not the world’s — best players in his position.
Stuart Hogg, arrives at the home of English rugby on Saturday afternoon widely regarded as the northern hemisphere’s best full-back with ball in hand and the star of a rapid Scotland backline that looks likely to test the home side’s defence.
If British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland were primarily concerned with sending ripples around New Zealand stadiums this summer, as fans rise to their feet and seats snap together, Hogg would already have sealed his place in his starting XV.
No full-back has been a more potent attacking force than the 24-year-old at this year’s Six Nations so far, who has scored three tries to his opposite numbers’ collective zero.
The flattering statistics do not end there. According to data from Accenture, official technology provider to the Six Nations, Hogg has beaten 10 defenders in his three games against Ireland, France and Wales.
Only Ireland’s Rob Kearney can match that figure, while England’s Mike Brown has raced past nine defenders and Leigh Halfpenny of Wales just three.
Yet with the exception of Halfpenny, Hogg’s rivals for the Lions jersey have all had more opportunities to do so. Whereas Kearney and Brown have beaten a defender with every 3.8 and 3.4 carries respectively, Hogg is skinning opponents with every 2.8 carries.
Hogg’s effective running is demonstrated in his 207m made from 28 carries — an average of 7.4m made whenever he has had the ball. Brown has been more effective at gaining ground, with 266m made from 31 carries, an average of 8.1m per carry. But Hogg is well ahead of Halfpenny and Kearney, who average 5.9m and 4.5m respectively.
The Scot is also ahead in terms of clean breaks and tackles. No player has made more clean breaks than his five this year, while Hogg has also made 11 tackles — four more than Kearney, the next most prolific full-back.
His importance to Scotland is underlined by the fact he has been responsible for a higher proportion of his side’s carries across the gainline, metres made, beaten defenders and clean breaks than any of his rivals have for their respective nations.
For all the razor-sharp running and creative vision, it may be those final tackling statistics that do most to boost Hogg’s Lions chances.
Question marks have hovered over Hogg’s defensive steel throughout his career and with Gatland less inclined to an expansive playing style than Scotland boss Vern Cotter, that could count against him.
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The All Blacks are famously fond of kicking to the opposition and looking to force turnovers in dangerous areas and Hogg’s five turnovers conceded so far — one more than Kearney and three more than both Brown and Halfpenny could stand out. Similarly, Hogg is also top of the pile for missed tackles, with five.
Perhaps, then, Hogg’s best chance of putting himself at the forefront of Gatland’s thinking will lie not in dazzling the Twickenham crowd but in putting up a stern defence against England’s own array of attacking talent.