IN a way it is a compliment. The threat which Stuart Hogg poses with his elusive power running from all areas of the pitch causes opposing teams to studiously avoid him with their kicking game while studiously targeting him with the kind of rough stuff which saw him knocked out of the Six Nations defeat to Ireland last February and May’s Guinness PRO 14 final.

With the likes of Peter O’Mahony and Rob Kearney no doubt having more of the same in store for the 27-year-old on the morning of September 22 in Yokohama for Scotland’s Rugby World Cup opener, it is little wonder if the full back has had to be more resourceful in finding ways to indulge his love of the sport.

“I view it as a challenge,” said Hogg. “I take it as a compliment, a good thing, that they’re trying to keep me out of the game. But it makes it challenging, as well, because I have to find different ways to get involved. It’s something I’ve worked on over the last few years.

“You know you’re not going to get the opportunities on the counter-attack you used to,” he added. “Teams aren’t kicking to you as much. So you’ve got to find ways to get involved.

“The main thing is to be mature about the situation. Because I’ve not had the ball for a while, I’m not just trying to pull something out of my backside!

“I have to do what’s best for the team. And that means I’m always willing to learn, always willing to improve. I watch a hell of a lot of rugby, picking out the best fullbacks and seeing what they bring to their game. I then try to put it into practice.”

In particular, Hogg is currently poring over the videos of Ben Smith, the spring-heeled full back/wing of the All Blacks, a man who seems to have the happy knack of going up for high balls yet coming down with the ball and all his faculties intact.

“I study a lot,” he said. “Sean Lineen a few years ago called me a student of the game and he was right.

“I’m not scared to say I’m obsessed by rugby, that I’m in love with the game. It’s something I watch a lot. I spend hours trying to learn, trying to get better, trying to bring new plays into the game, bring the best out of myself and other people.

“I watch lots of different players who bring different aspects to the game; everyone has different characteristics. But the best player in the world right now is Ben Smith for the All Blacks.

“His flexibility to play on the wing and at full-back, the way he gets involved in the kicking game, the aerial game, his positional play. He’s someone I really look up to because of all that – and he plays in the best team in the world. I truly believe he’s the best fullback in the world so, if I can take little bits of his game and add them into mine, I’ll be fairly happy.”

Hogg’s desire for constant innovation and dedication to improving his sport means he is a kindred spirit to head coach Gregor Townsend., his former Glasgow Warriors head coach. If there is an unorthodox way of looking at the game to give Scotland a marginal gain when kick-off comes, it is a fairly safe bet that the pair have thought of it.

“That’s the thing,” says Hogg. “Nine times out of ten when I’m watching rugby, I can text Mike Blair [Townsend’s assistant coach] – and know that he’ll be watching the same game. There are little bits and pieces I always add into the game. If it drives the team forward, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about us putting these plans into action, bringing all those pieces together, making sure we make it count in Japan.”

Once marked out as the joker of the squad, Hogg might be doing slightly less of the class clown stuff but he is still the type of infectious personality who is great for squad morale out in the Far East. He sees another kindred spirit in his Hawick pal Darcy Graham, who has followed him into the squad. Already the scorer of five tries in five international starts, Graham promises to be part of an exciting mix in the back three positions.

“I’m delighted for him,” said Hogg. “I’ve watched Darcy over the last few years and we’ve heard a lot about him. I’ve been keeping an eye on him, so to see him excelling in professional and international rugby is great.

“The best thing about Darcy is that he works hard – and he wants to get better. He asks the right questions at the right time, he’s always willing to learn and improve. He’s got a huge amount of respect for everybody in the squad, as well. I’m excited to see how good he can actually be.”

It all begins against Ireland next Sunday, a little bit of a grudge match which should set the tone for this World Cup. “We’d been working incredibly hard during the months leading up to naming the squad, getting ourselves to where we wanted to be,” said Hogg. “The hard work then started again immediately. None of us can wait. Ireland is a great test in the first game. We need to go into that one hitting the ground running.”