There’s an old tale which states the career of Gavin Hastings, and by extension his younger brother Scott, two talismanic figures for Scottish rugby through most of the 80s and into the mid-90s, might not have happened were it not for a freak accident involving a car, the school rugby coach and young Gavin’s leg.
The bare facts of the story are 100 per cent true. However, the true extent of the influence it had might have been embellished somewhat over time. Though Gavin was immediately picked for the rugby team as a goodwill gesture having returned to full fitness, it wasn’t maybe quite a ‘Eureka’ moment for an impressionable young mind as it’s been made out to be.
You see, there was always a good chance the sport-mad Hastings brothers were going to find out sooner of later they had a real talent for rugby. They were already familiar with it. In fact, they were familiar with just about every popular sport across the UK. Growing up in Edinburgh in the 1970s, playing until the sun went down was the best way to pass the time.
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Scott Hastings when asked about the story involving the rugby coach running over young Gavin. “He broke his leg and the rugby coach had a sympathetic outlook towards him, so he picked him in the first team and Gavin never looked back after.
“There were four of us and my father [Clifford] used to play for Watsonians. So Saturdays, and Sundays to a certain extent, were very much spent kicking a football or rugby ball around the back pitches. While the teams were playing on the main pitch we were having a five-a-side, ten-a-side, 20-a-side on the adjoining pitch. And we used to keep playing until it was dark.
“It was always sport. If it was Wimbledon on there’d be a tennis net strung up and we’d be playing in the garden. If it was cricket on we’d put some stumps into the ground and play that. It literally was just sport, sport, sport.”
Both would follow in their father’s footsteps by playing for Watsonians and it wouldn’t be long before they would become synonymous with the national squad in the late 80s and early 90s.
A year after winning the Grand Slam in the 1984 Five Nations Championships, Scotland had to make do with the Wooden Spoon the following year. In response, the squad was freshened up, with the two brothers both making their debuts against France in the opening game of the 1986 tournament.
Scotland won the match 18-17, with Gavin kicking every one of the home side’s points. Though they would lose to Wales the following game, they rallied to beat England and Ireland, thereby sharing the tournament trophy with France.
“It was pretty special for my mum and dad, who were extremely proud. As were my oldest brother Graham and younger brother Euan. It was a marvellous moment for the Hastings family,” recalls Scott. “And it was somewhat ironic that, while we didn’t play in every game thereafter, we actually won our 50th caps on the same day at Murrayfield against France, albeit we didn’t win that one.
“We both played on the British and Irish Lions tours of 1989 and 1993, and we’re the only brothers to have ever played on two British and Irish Lions tours. When you look back you kind of realise the impact and the significance you had within your sport.”
The most significant impact came in 1990 as Scotland defeated England in a winner-takes-all clash for the Grand Slam. It remains the last time Scotland achieved the ultimate prize in Northern Hemisphere rugby.