Interview: Scott Hastings, Scottish rugby legend

Share this article

Capped 65 times, the Scotland great embraces life after rugby

• Hastings sports a French scarf as he enjoys a meal in an Edinburgh restaurant ahead of today's match in Paris Picture: Jayne Emsley

Scott Hastings greets each new day in exactly the same way: as if it's going to be great and tomorrow even better. "After we've dropped our daughter off at school, Jenny and I head up Corstorphine Hill and run across the top," he says. The wife of the Scotland rugby hero was a triathlete in her youth and you imagine these sessions being quite competitive, with Jenny confirming: "I hate following him - I have to be the one in front." Hastings says they're principally for exercising their spaniel and in the kitchen of their Edinburgh home he apologises for the dog's crash-tackles. Parker could do with another runaround, for sure, but then he's not the only excitable presence in the room.

Hastings loves his life; the trademark grin tells you that. He loves that January is gone so the Six Nations can begin. He loves having played rugby but also that he doesn't, any more. He loves that he works at home (Jenny's views on this are unrecorded). He loves that, as a freelancer in events and marketing consultancy, he doesn't have to start until 10am.

"It's magic. And to think I went to an office for 20 years, every morning rushed to get in before nine. Why did I do that?"

Surely it was the times, I say: Maggie Thatcher, corporate culture, everyone in sharp suits, only wimps stopping for lunch.

"No no, we made sure we went out for lunch most days. I was in advertising and it was my job to drag the creatives back from the pub and we'd work on into the evening. These guys claimed they always came up with their best ideas after three or four pints."

Hastings stresses that he wasn't on the artistic side of things at his old agency. In rugby the centre may be chiefly remembered not so much for creativity as destruction, but one tackle in particular - 1990, Murrayfield, Grand Slam decider - was beautiful in its tenacity and its finality. In the words of Bill McLaren it was "a game-saving tackle ... Rory Underwood was on his way to his 23rd international try, he must have thought he was through - but Hastings got him."

His best-ever tackle? "It was right down at his laces, I kind of lassoo-ed him, and having missed Will Carling who put in Jeremy Guscott for England's try I had to stop him, so yes. But a pal from school, Callum Thomson, will tell me whenever we meet that my one for the Primary 7 team in Crieff was even better. It was a flying tackle in the style of Gerald Davies but I don't remember it. That day peaked for me with the bus journey which we shared with the first XV - magic."

He mentions some current projects and preoccupations, including touch rugby, which we must now simply call "touch" apparently, and the introduction of sevens to the Olympics in time for Rio 2016. When he starts talking about how "viral marketing" works for the game he loves he loses me a bit. It would demean him to suggest that, in the promotion of the oval ball, all he has to do is "be Scott Hastings". But that is far from an inconsequential role given those 65 caps, the two Lions tours - and on top you get the famous Scott ebullience, at 46 still burning like a three-bar electric fire, very much undimmed.

In another corner of Edinburgh, similiarly equipped with phone and laptop, brother Gavin is doing the same thing. They work separately - Scott also has his commentary duties with Sky and ITV - but also together. He flips open his computer to show me the trailer for a rugby movie to which the pair are lending credence. Play On is a modest affair - "It isn't Invicticus," he confirms.

Gavin has a cameo, appearing as himself. "And you're not in it, are you Scott?" shouts Jenny from another room. Scott snorts. "Gavin only has one line and yet he needed 23 takes."

Play On isn't a Hastings brothers' biopic and more's the pity. The plot - black-sheep son of rugby great brings dishonour to family name before finding redemption - sounds intriguing but, really, is it any more worthy of the celluloid treatment than the story of the young bucks and last-chancers mustered as cannon fodder for Scotland's established stars before the first international of the campaign, who promptly thump the surviving Grand Slammers of '84 and force gobsmacked selectors to rip up the team-sheet? This is Scott's heritage, Gavin's too, and the famous trial happened 25 years ago.

He'd overlooked the anniversary until I'd reminded him. "That also means it's 25 years since my first cap." How could he have temporarily forgotten that? "Well, I'm not a very nostalgic person. Last year was the 20th anniversary of our Grand Slam but the team didn't do anything special to mark the occasion. I'm not saying it wouldn't have been nice to see the lads again but I wasn't especially bothered that we kind of missed it. I remember [Newcastle sporting benefactor] Sir John Hall saying that those who live in the past, die in the past. I agree with that and try to live in the present.

"That's my attitude regarding rugby and life. People ask me, with weariness in their voice: ‘Why are you always so happy?' I say; ‘Look at the day!'" Right now, it should be pointed out, the rain is battering off Hastings' conservatory roof. Re rugby, he doesn't miss playing. "When I stopped I realised there was more to life, like business and family." Another chortle from Jenny, and from son Corey, currently on his gap year. "Aye, well, perhaps that was the order I put them in at first, but I've since come to realise that family is the most important, it's everything."

Last September, Gavin revealed that his wife Diane was suffering from Parkinson's disease. She was diagnosed in 2003 but until he broke the news at the World Parkinson Congress only the family knew. "I was devastated when I found out, as were we all," says Scott. "Diane is the same age as me and to see someone affected by such a wretched illness, it was heartbreaking. But the way she's coping is fantastic and she's getting on with life. She's got two dogs now which she walks every day, and she and Gavin will be in Paris to cheer us on in this Six Nations."

Back, then, to that trial. Un-nostalgic Hasting may be, but he admits: "It was pretty amazing what happened." On 4 January, 1986 at Murrayfield it was Blues against Reds, Probables vs Possibles - "the sitting tenants and the gatecrashers". The score was 41-10 to the Reds and The Scotsman's match report predicted "the most awful carnage from the selectorial axe". Ultimately, five Reds - the two Hastings, David Sole, Finlay Calder, Jeremy Campbell-Lamerton plus Matt Duncan who wore Blue that day but was part of the new wave - forced their way into the team to kick off against today's opponents France.

He takes me back a few weeks before, to his 21st birthday party in his parents' house. "There were some gatecrashers that day too - look," he says, flourishing a fat photo-album full of rugger boys in drag. I blunder by assuming Jenny to be the girl flashing lots of thigh.

"That's not me," she says, "but I'll take the compliment." Hastings looks about 12, so back then what was he all about?

"I was mad," he says, "and I liked my sauce like any other lad but my rugby with Watsonians was everything to me, I was desperately committed and I used to train my nuts off. I was confident, I was running hot, but only the month before with Scotland Bs I was thinking I might have to limit my ambitions: I looked over at the big team's training and thought it was too much of a leap. Then we played the Inter-Districts, Edinburgh won playing some great rugby, and I allowed myself to wonder: ‘Have I got a wee chance?'

"The trial was just incredible with Soley driving over the gainline and Finlay - who was 27, so maybe that was his last attempt - thundering around. Gavin kicked all his goals and I scored a try and had another disallowed. But every one of us played outstandingly well; it was a rampant performance. Gary Callander did brilliantly against Colin Deans, the Scotland captain, and Stuart Johnston - David's brother - outshone Roy Laidlaw. The guys in possession of the jerseys were, I think, in a state of total shock. There were obviously going to be changes. The question for the selectors must have been: ‘How many do we stop at?'"

After all his exertions Hastings was simply too tired to contemplate a new dawn for the national team, or his potential role in it. "Pals were telling me ‘You're in, you're in' but I had a couple of pints in Stockbridge and then sloped off home. I suppose I was always one of these guys who in the pub would give it yee-ha then ..." Jenny: "Fall asleep? You used to do that when we went out for dinner."

Three days later, he got the envelope. "The manila one, none of your white rubbish, and embossed ‘SRU' with a tick in the ‘player' box in the late [secretary] Bill Hogg's scrawl - I'd like to dedicate this article to him. Gavin, who was home from Cambridge University, got his and there followed the kind of really basic conversation that only two brothers can have: ‘You in? Yeah. You? Yeah. See you later, I'm off to work.'"

And when the still-amateur Hastings the Younger got to the office he sought out Simon Scott, who might have been his centre partner in the new Scotland but didn't quite make it. "That was a shame, Simon had a brilliant trial as well, and I'd thought of him as being in front of me."

His folks must have been pleased. "Mother cried." Jenny says she's never forgotten her phonecall from the delirious new cap. But not everyone was delighted for him. "The chairman of the selectors, Ian MacGregor, came up to me the weekend before the game and said: ‘Remember son, you didn't get my effing vote.'" That gave me bags of confidence!"

In those days, the team only gathered on the Thursday before a match. "I'd fantasised about my first-ever international, and could see myself running out at Murrayfield - but what I hadn't visualised because I didn't know the form was the sole goujons in the Braid Hills Hotel and the Friday night visit to the Dominion cinema where the manager announces ‘And tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we've been joined by the Scotland team', only for a wee squirt to turn round and ask: ‘Which one of yooz is Kenny Dalglish?'"

Incredibly, the backs' final warm-up for Serge Blanco, Philippe Sella et al was in the hotel car park. Thinking of how sophisticated conditioning has become, with those flying-formations of exercise bikes,

Hastings chuckles as he wonders how today's players would cope with being stuck in a dressing-room for more than an hour, only being let out for the team photo, and all the "effing and blinding and puking and howling" that constituted pre-match for him. For Hastings, the baby of the team, this was "scary but so exciting". Almost as exciting, indeed, as being on that Crieff-bound bus.

He remembers everything and nothing about the next hour and a half. "The rap on the dressing-room door, the dimly-lit corridor, the smell of the rubber mats, ten paces right, another ten left, the mouth of the tunnel, the cacophony ... but the game itself passed in a complete blur."

Seconds after kick-off Scotland were behind. "Gavin kicked straight into touch. We anticipated a scrum, as you do, and moseyed back to halfway - only for the French to take a quick lineout and score a try. Maybe a few of the new boys were wondering if the faith shown in us had been justified. Then John Rutherford shouted 'Right Scotty, you're putting this next one up on Blanco' and that kick brought me into the match." Final score: Scotland 18, France 17. The new boys - including the perpetual smiler lacking at least one effing vote - done good. "I know I say I don't look back, but I'm tingling all over thinking about my first cap - and how I couldn't wait to get another."

And there we will leave the past. Hastings is much enthused by the current team, intrigued by the prospect later in this Six Nations of coach Andy Robinson returning to Twickenham, scene of his sacking by England, and reminded of the spirit that was around in his day, penetrating the fug of Ralgex and swearing.

And he's looking forward to the opportunity afforded by the tournament to hook up with so many old friends, including Jeremy Guscott, who in the heat of '90 he called a "black bastard". "I was so embarrassed by that, it was idiotic, but he's forgiven me."

The rain has gone off and he's looking out the window - could he squeeze in another run? "This morning I thought I was lacking energy. I shouted to Jenny: 'Am I okay?' She said it was all in my head and she was right. No, I'll wait until tomorrow."

It's going to be fantastic, apparently.

• Analysis, interviews and reports from our rugby writers

• Photo galleries of each Scotland match

• Our regular Six Nations blog

• Play our Six Nations Predictor for a chance to win tickets

• Follow our Six Nations coverage on Twitter