Hastings junior was thrust into the unfamiliar role as Scotland were hit by back-three injuries to Tommy Seymour and Blair Kinghorn in the first half of last Saturday’s 18-11 loss to Wales in the Guinness Six Nations.
The 22-year-old Glasgow stand-off has a bit of experience at centre but the shunt to the position where his old man had been one of the country’s leading exponents was unexpected. The youngster did the family name justice with a fine stint, assisting in the excellent try finished off by Darcy Graham, but Hastings senior laughs off any suggestion that he has since been giving the lad a full-back masterclass.
“I have nothing to do with my son’s preparation. I leave that to him and his coaches,” said the former Scotland and Lions skipper. “But I don’t think there are many players who are capable of switching positions like that, I thought he did very well. He’s a natural ball player like Finn Russell. He’s young, he’s keen and exuberant.”
A chip off the old block then, but Twickenham, where Scotland head this week in an attempt to come out of a bruising Six Nations with more than a solitary win over Italy, is a place that the 57-year-old can’t help but view with a shudder of foreboding.
Grand Slam hero Hastings dined with old foe Will Carling at English rugby’s HQ on Tuesday night but his experiences on the pitch there are not so convivial.
He missed the 12-12 draw in 1989, the closest Scotland have come to winning at their most jinxed away venue since 1983, and admits that it was not a place that provides any warm glows when he looks back at a stellar career which saw him win 61 caps for Scotland and make six Test appearance for the Lions.
“It’s just one of these places, like France, where we’ve not been able to win. We’ve never played well enough,” said Hastings. “I remember the first time I went in 1987 [a 21-12 defeat] and it absolutely hosed it down and we just played the worst game of rugby of all time. One of the worst performances I’ve ever been involved in.
“I always felt we could win there because I’m an optimistic guy. In 1995 we went down there going for the Grand Slam but we just didn’t quite do well enough and England were too strong for us. We don’t beat them often. In my career I had two wins against them at Murrayfield in 1986 and 1990. That tells its own story.”
Mention of France brings to mind Hastings and current Scotland coach Gregor Townsend combining so brilliantly in 1995 to dramatically clinch a first win in Paris since 1969. The former full-back’s report card of his old team-mate this year is mixed.
“It’s not been the campaign people wanted from a results point of view. But how are you going to measure it?” said Hastings.
“Were we ever going to be capable of winning the Six Nations this year? Possibly not. The focus now has to be on the World Cup.
“I’m not going to be overly critical because that’s not going to serve any purpose. The comment I would make is we had a number of kickable penalties against Wales last weekend. It seemed very strange we didn’t take the opportunity of closing the gap and putting Wales under pressure. I don’t understand the reasons behind the decisions. Kick two penalties [when Scotland were trailing 15-11] and we win the game [which Wales finally sealed 18-11 with a last-kick of the game penalty]. Similarly with the game against South Africa in November we could have drawn. There’s nothing wrong with drawing against a very good side like South Africa and nothing wrong with kicking two penalties to win by two points against Wales.
“I would much rather the Scotland team did that to put themselves in a position to win than the driving maul which we don’t seem to have a lot of success from.”
He may be a natural optimist but, deep down, Hastings fears the worst as a Scotland team on the back of three straight defeats head to their biennial torture chamber to face an English side who could have a shot at the title come the evening kick-off time.
“I have no expectation for Saturday. I think a lot better Scotland teams have faced a lot worse England teams and come away with nothing,” said Hastings.
“This is going to be a seriously tough game for Scotland. It will be incredibly tough for those boys, they’ve just got to go out and play the bravest game of their lives and hope they can give themselves a shot at it.
“Do I expect Scotland to win? No I don’t? Would I like and hope them to? Of course, but I don’t expect them to. It’s been 36 long years and it’s going to be a very tough assignment, That’s not being negative, it’s just being realistic.”
l Gavin Hastings is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover shares and understands the values of rugby. @LandRoverRugby