Scottish Rugby fans have had little to cheer about in the Six Nations so far this year. The northern hemisphere's flagship tournament has seen the Scots post three losses from three games.
An injury plague of biblical proportions has also seen coach Andy Robinson's hand forcibly turned towards a policy of blooding youngsters. Ironically, the subsequent performances from the likes of Lee Jones, David Denton and Stuart Hogg has turned out to be among the few high points of a beleaguered campaign.
In particular, it is Stuart Hogg who has grasped his opportunity with an exciting, creative vigour not seen since the early years of Chris Paterson, Gregor Townsend or even Jim Renwick.
Much like these erstwhile legends of Scottish Rugby, Hogg also hails from the Scottish Borders.
An infamous hotbed of passionate rugby fervour famed for producing talented oval ball specialists with the frequency of a conveyor belt. Whilst the region forms only one four-hundredth of the population of Scotland it has through the years provided one sixth of its International rugby players.
An extraordinary statistic that continues with today's crop of Borders stars gracing the Murrayfield turf. In addition to Stuart Hogg (Hawick) there is Lee Jones (Selkirk), Greig Laidlaw (Jedburgh), Geoff Cross (Galashiels), Kelly Brown (Earlston) and current captain Ross Ford (Kelso). All this seems ever the more remarkable when you consider that the Border Reivers professional side was indefinitely closed by the Scottish Rugby Union in 2007.
The Borders is an area that has also suffered more than most in the recent economic downturn. A once rich textile and woollen mill industry which fuelled these small but prosperous towns is now a shadow of its former self. Beeching's cuts in the sixties and seventies cut the region off from the rail network and more recent disasters such as the Foot & Mouth outbreak in 2001 have proven costly.
The past 15 years has seen a, somewhat inevitable, steady migration of young people to the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow in search of education and employment. This has left behind not only a difficult economic legacy for towns such as Galashiels and Hawick, but also a near decimation of players to continue the fine Borders' rugby tradition.
However, through a combination of fantastic rugby development work at youth and school level and a slow but successful adaptation to the new professional rugby landscape, there seems to be something of a renaissance amongst the rugby folk of the Borders. Stuart Hogg is very much a product of this renewed endeavour.
A proud son of Hawick, his father John Hogg played for Hawick Rugby Club and had the distinguished honour of being elected Cornet of the famous Hawick Common Riding in 1983.
Stuart and his brother Graham cut their rugby teeth endlessly playing full contact rugby in the swing park off the towns Weensland Road and making their way through the well-worn Hawick rugby youth structure.
However, it was at Mansfield Park, the home of Hawick Rugby Club where he honed his inimitable running style and fearless broken field attacking play. He quickly came to prominence for the senior side as both a brilliant utility back and a devastating sevens specialist. Persuaded by former test player Richie Gray to join his BASE Rugby course at Borders College, Hogg was provided a crucial pathway to professional rugby. From there he was capped at all Scotland age grade levels and signed by Glasgow Warriors as a development player in 2011.
By the time the Six Nations came round this year he was listed in the Scotland A team. Out of the blue this second string side pulled off a shock victory over a much-fancied England Saxons side at Netherdale with Hogg scoring a fabulous try in the process.
His mazy run broke through several England tackles before he touched the ball down and became an overnight YouTube sensation. Pressure from fans and the media for him to be called into senior side saw him make the bench for the Scotland v Wales match in Cardiff. An injury to Max Evans then propelled Hogg on to the pitch for his first full cap and go on to make one of his blistering trademark breaks and nearly score a try. A star was born. He then went on to deliver substance to the hype in the following game against France at Murrayfield with a brilliant try in the opening exchanges and an electrifying performance throughout.
From here Stuart Hogg and his fellow young stars will hope to turn around the fortunes of the national side over the next decade or so. For the region that birthed Hogg and his fellow Internationalists their success will provide inspiration and hope for the next generation of young, rugby-mad players. Hope that the rich tradition of providing top quality rugby will continue for years to come.Suggest a correction