Gavin Hastings is an instinctively optimistic character but a mention of the “T word” is enough even to induce a case of the heebie-jeebies in the former buccaneering Scotland and Lions skipper.
As a student, he won the Varsity match with Cambridge University at the home of English rugby in 1985 but, after that, his record there in a Scotland jersey unfolded as played four, lost four. He missed the 1989 Five Nations through injury so wasn’t involved in the 12-12 draw which was the only time the Scots have avoided defeat since the last win way back in 1983.
Hastings has been delighted with the Scottish performances in the Six Nations so far but, ahead of this afternoon’s momentous Calcutta Cup clash, he admitted to feeling pangs of trepidation.
“It strikes me that there has been a lot of talking by the Scottish players, and one or two of the coaching team, and I’m slightly nervous about that,” said Hastings. “I think if we just kept shtum all week that might be quite good. But to say Twickenham holds no fears or whatever – you don’t need to say that. Just keep quiet.
“They’ve done quite well. I’m downplaying Scotland. I want to downplay them, I don’t think they should do anything other than downplay their chances.”
Hastings accepted, however, that the team’s performances of late, particularly the stirring home wins over Ireland and Wales, can’t help but raise expectations that a famous Triple Crown-sealing victory could be achieved today.
“Scotland have played some very exciting rugby. They’ve done well, and it’s been wonderful to see Murrayfield back at its noisy best and reminiscent of all the good days,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly you can turn things around. There has been a buzz about Murrayfield again, and almost an expectancy that has come around pretty quickly. From winning against Argentina after the disappointment of losing to Australia the week before, and then winning against Ireland and Wales, it’s been very good.
“I do worry, however – it strikes me that England are a long way from playing their best rugby. If they were to turn on their best rugby on Saturday, my worry is can Scotland cope?
“On the other hand, the last time Scotland were at Twickenham – the World Cup quarter-final against Australia – we turned Twickenham Scottish that day by virtue of the way we played.
“So I’m in a quandary as to which way it’s going to go. I don’t know what will happen but I hope that Scotland will play bloody well, and hope they will have a victory.
“But we have to be very realistic about that, given our record at Twickenham. Given the fact that England have not played well, and the fact that if England do play well, where will Scotland be?”
Hastings can’t quite put his finger on why Scotland’s record is especially bad at the famous old London stadium.
“I don’t think I felt intimidated whenever I played there. It’s just a tough place to play,” he explained. “It’s a big old stadium and there are a lot more English supporters there than Scottish supporters. The England team always seem to be massive.”
Hastings was speaking last week at the Cure Parkinson’s Trust, where he accompanied coach Warren Gatland on a visit to the Lions’ Scottish partner charity.
The Scot captained the Lions on the 1993 tour to New Zealand, which ended in a 2-1 series defeat, and he hopes that more of his compatriots are chosen for the trip to take on the All Blacks this summer than has been the case on recent tours.
“I think possibly five or six [Scots] at this point in time, but if we don’t do all that well in the last two games, and these five or six players don’t play all that well, then I don’t think there’s any guarantees,” said Hastings. “They’ve got two more international weekends in which to stake their claim. And I think a very strong performance on Saturday backed up by a very good performance against Italy will confirm a number of these people.”