Stuart Hogg tipped for a Japan league switch

Former Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw has hinted that Stuart Hogg could be tempted to join him in Japanese rugby as the Exeter Chiefs full-back weighs up his future beyond this year’s World Cup. Laidlaw, 37, is in his third season with Urayasu D-Rocks , formerly the NTT Shining Arcs, after retiring from international rugby following the last global tournament in Japan in 2019.

The veteran half-back is discussing a possible move into a coaching role with the club next year and revealed Hogg has sounded him out about the benefits of life in the Far East. “I have spoken to Stuart a few times – and a couple of other players as well,” said Laidlaw. “It seems they like the sound of the short seasons in Japan.

“Stuart is still in contract at Exeter as far as I’m aware, but I have spoken to a few players who are turning their heads and are potentially looking for something different. It is a great place to come and play for a few years, especially if like me you are at the end of your career.”

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Hogg, 30, initially signed a two-year deal with Exeter in 2019 but was among a host of players – including Montpellier-bound England duo Sam Simmonds and Luke Cowan-Dickie – who had their contracts extended in July 2020.

Already Scotland’s record try-scorer, Hogg, who hopes to prove his recovery from a heel injury in time for their opening Guinness Six Nations clash against England at Twickenham on February 4, is also closing in on his 100th Test for his country and is likely to play in his third World Cup later this year.

Japan’s Rugby League One already boasts a host of international stars such as Springboks duo Faf de Klerk and Pieter-Steph du Toit and Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley of the Wallabies, while fly-half Richie Mo’unga will follow fellow All Black Beauden Barrett in taking a sabbatical in Japan next year. “There are two or three things that are intriguing to players,” Laidlaw said. “One is the length of the season because it is a lot shorter here.

“Also, if you want a different challenge, culturally and with a completely different language, players will look at it. Thirdly there is the financial aspect, not just because you can earn good money, but there is stability in many ways because all the clubs are owned by big companies.

“Most of the Japanese boys are employed by the companies and do a bit of work for them as well as playing rugby. That system works really well. The way that a lot of the South African players are doing it, they are actually playing here in Japan for Japanese clubs, making use of that short season, and then going back to South Africa. It is a model that can work for boys who still want to play international rugby.”

Scotland will again look to their totems, Hogg and fly-half Finn Russell, when they launch their Six Nations campaign against England, aiming to repeat their 38-year hoodoo-busting victory at Twickenham in 2021. Although Laidlaw is wary of the impact new head coach Steve Borthwick, whom he worked with on the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand, will have on England, he believes the Scots should head to south-west London upbeat about their prospects of a third successive Calcutta Cup victory. “It is going to be a tough start,” he said.

“Steve Borthwick is a good coach and a good man and if anyone is going to get England going then he is probably the man for the job at the moment. It is very important that Scotland get off to a good start. They will be looking to their big players, like Stuart and Finn, to really perform and get the team going.

“Scotland have really caused England problems over the last number of years, starting in 2018 when we were able to win at Murrayfield and that crazy game in 2019 when we got a draw. Some of that was down the way England were playing. They were defending a lot and kicking the ball away a huge amount, probably more than other teams.

“Scotland have a slightly different game plan, they like to attack and get their hands on the ball, so the way England played almost played into Scotland’s hands. That will change a little bit under Steve. If you look at that England team, they have got some excellent attackers right across the field.

“It will be a difficult game but having said that, Scotland will have a lot of confidence from the last two or three years. If you are going to get England, probably first up is a good time to get them before Steve can get his fingerprints on the team. They will go down there with a bit of confidence.”

After coming from 14-0 down to lead New Zealand 23-14 in November before letting victory slip and then thrashing Argentina in their final autumn Test, optimism is rising again for a Scotland team that has won three matches in three of their past five Six Nations campaigns but have yet to finish higher than third.

“The expectation is there probably more in Scotland than anywhere else because we believe we have got good players,” Laidlaw added. “If you look at the campaign last year, we had an excellent result against England and then a really poor performance against Wales when we were in the tussle and then got really indisciplined and gave away silly penalties. Thats what the game costs us.

“Hopefully the team has learned and moved on again. They have got three games back at Murrayfield this time around so if they can get a positive result on the road first up, it sets them up well for the tournament.”

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