Although he was as disappointed as anyone by Scotland’s early exit from the Rugby World Cup, Adam Hastings returned from Japan sufficiently emboldened by his man-of-the-match performance to take on a daunting task: he was going to get stuck into the big boxes stacked at the front door of his new pad and build himself some flatpack furniture, hopefully showing the same flair with which he’d demolished Russia.
“I bought the place just before the tournament started,” he says of the Glasgow West End flat, “so when I got back it needed sorted. I used to live with [Warriors team-mate] Matt Smith. The idea was that he cooked and I cleaned, but I never cleaned and he ended up doing both. Then Matt got himself a missus and I was kicked out. When you become a homeowner you have to grow up. There’s the mortgage to organise and direct debits for all your bills. So I started trying to make this TV cabinet. Bloody hell, it took me three-and-a-half hours. It was a big load from Ikea and life’s too short. I got in a professional for the rest of it!”
I’m with Gavin Hastings’ laddie in Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Hotel and there’s a neat symmetry to this. Four autumns ago I interviewed yon big, square-jawed rugby hero at the same table. Gavin talked amusedly about his World Cups, quite modest affairs compared to the gargantuan event just gone. He talked movingly about his wife, and Adam’s mum, Diane, then firmly in the grip of Parkinson’s disease. And he talked proudly about Adam, then at the start of his own career at Bath, and how the previous day had been the boy’s 19th birthday, only when the old man started singing down the phone, Adam stopped him. “He was already at training, being a professional rugby player,” said the suitably rebuked Gav.
Four autumns ago our waiter, Andy, was thrilled to be serving the Dark Blue legend, to the extent he dropped some plates while attempting to recreate one of Hastings Sr’s best moves. Back on duty today, Andy tells the chip off the old block: “Your dad was in here just before he went out to watch your game. I bet him you’d score the first try.”
He did, and also the second as Scotland battered Russia 61-0. Hastings controlled the game deftly, and dead-eyed kicking took his personal haul to 26 points. He may shadow handy-with-a-hammer types but a more meaningful role for him is that of understudy to Finn Russell as stand-off and playmaker. Now Hastings wants to follow up his showing in Shizuoka by having a big year. Granted the Russian Bears weren’t Tier 1 and ultimately we couldn’t get out of our group, but he calls that game “the most fun I’ve ever had on a rugby pitch”. Uncle Scott, fellow Grand Slam immortal, was commentating on the thumping victory and alongside his beaming dad in the stands was the equally-thrilled Diane. “That made the game all the more special,” says Hastings. “To have Mum, my biggest fan, watching me was awesome.”
Until an operation three years ago when she underwent deep brain stimulation to mitigate the symptoms of Parkinson’s, Diane struggled to leave home in Edinburgh and the confines of an aircraft cabin to fly halfway round the world would have defeated her.
“Mum has been watching me play rugby since day dot and the wee tots,” he adds. “She’s been through loads with Parkinson’s. I’ve seen her at her worst and it wasn’t nice. She had that treatment and is doing so much better now. That’s been brilliant for the whole family, Dad and my sister Holly and everyone, and for me it was just class to have her in Japan.”
Hastings is rugby royalty. His young life – he turned 23 at the World Cup – has not lacked drama. But he doesn’t come to the table in a circumspect way. He’s breezily open and engaging, unafraid of self-criticism or of the comical fact that his luscious hair has its own Twitter account.
When he got back from Japan he quickly rounded up some chums for a few beers. Then he phoned Blair Kinghorn, his room-mate in Japan, and they both agreed that while it was good to be home they were already pining for the World Cup. “I thought I was missing Scotland’s cold. Twenty-four hours later I was missing Japan’s heat,” he sighs.
“Awesome” is a word Hastings uses a lot. The host nation’s hospitality was awesome, our man marvelling at the culture, the respect, the etiquette, the sushi custom of dipping rice first, oh, and also the burping (“It’s polite to belch so we all got into that.”). Less awesome was Kinghorn’s snoring (“I hated it. I had to chuck pillows at him, slap him.”). The pair listened to Ibiza chillout and watched Leonardo DiCaprio movies. Kinghorn picked up a book more often: “Something called Sapiens, though I maintain he only read three pages the whole five weeks.”
Hastings learned a few Japanese words, using Google’s translate function to make himself understood to taxi drivers. The country was on a full-on charm offensive: “I couldn’t begin to tell you how nice the Japanese people were, it was ridiculous. There were lots of stories of fans from other countries stopping to ask for directions, then being escorted to where they wanted to go. That happened to Mum. This bloke took her down the subway and bought a ticket for her.” I mention former West Bromwich Albion player John Trewick’s notorious verdict on China’s most iconic landmark – “When you’ve seen one wall you’ve seen them all” – and ask if Scotland managed to avoid similar faux-pas. “I hope so,” he says. So what was the biggest laugh of the expedition, the one that will have him smiling for years to come? “Er [long pause] should I mention this? No, I’m sorry, I can’t!”
We must talk about the rugby. “Happy days” is Hastings’ favourite phrase but there weren’t any in the aftermath of Scotland’s dire start and defeat by Ireland. He didn’t play in that one but what’s he like after a bad game? “It depends how bad! We have to watch all the matches back and sometimes it’s the last thing I want to do.” So what was he like during the re-run of the World Cup warm-up against France which imperilled his place in the squad? “I made the mistake of reading some reports. They said I had a shocker and I agree. When you get a hammering it’s not nice. Before, I would go into my shell. Now I react better: ‘Right, I’ve got a point to prove.’ Was I worried I’d blown my chances for Japan? Well, [head coach] Gregor [Townsend] was obviously going to make some selections based on form at that moment but with me he didn’t focus on that game and, I think, remembered I’d had a decent season with Glasgow. Thank God!”
Hastings makes repeated references to the player he used to be at the start of his career and the one he’s become: more confident, more appreciative of the game and its possibilities for him, no longer worried about following in famous boot-steps.
“At Bath I used to get so nervous before games. On the way to the ground I’d see folk in pubs enjoying a pint and wish that was me. Sometimes I wonder what I would be doing with my life if this hadn’t worked out for me. At school [George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, the family alma mater] you were told to keep up with your studies, just in case. I didn’t really do that. I told Mum and Dad that [if not making the grade at rugby] I might have gone to Australia and become a brickie because these guys seem to do all right. Three years ago, getting ready to go to training at seven in the morning, I’d look at my Snapchat and all my friends would just be getting back from another big night out and I was jealous. But I’m not any more. And I don’t want to be the bloke with the pint who just watches games. My friends have all got jobs now so they’re not clubbing all the time. They tell me I’m lucky and they’re right: playing rugby is awesome.”
Back to the World Cup: Hastings’ formal introduction came during the closing moments of the Samoa game, a solitary piece of sushi and he craved more. “The Russia match was the one I targeted and I was raring to go. When you don’t play a lot of rugby, as was the case in my first season at Glasgow, you almost try too hard when your chance comes. Fortunately this time everything worked out fine.” Although he grabbed the headlines, Hastings emphasises the power of the collective that day: the young brigade like him desperate for their chance, backed up by guys dropped after the Ireland game and “stewing” over that grim performance.
So: the showdown with the Brave Blossoms and what turned out to be Scotland’s last involvement, at least if you don’t count the ongoing rumbles following this week’s £70,000 fine and disrepute charge slapped on the Scottish Rugby Union. What a stooshie that was in the lead-up to the final group game, threatened by typhoon. In the eye of the storm, Japan were everyone’s second team and Scotland were portrayed as the villains for a clunky remark about “collateral damage”. But it was a different story in the Dark Blues camp, according to Hastings: “The impression given by Twitter and the media is that we were sitting in our team room fuming. It wasn’t like that. We were pretty calm. I just thought: this game is going to be on. Maybe on a different day at a different venue, but it’ll be on.”
Frustratingly, Hastings suffered an ankle injury and couldn’t play a part. He knew he wouldn’t get a start, but a larger slice of the action than the Samoa match might have been on offer. He hated watching, powerless to affect the outcome. “Horrible,” he says, “and after we’d lost I was like: ‘Could I have backed the guys up better? Was there something I could have said at half-time to help one of them?’” The changing-room at the end was a sorry place. “There were guys crying. For some of the older boys that was probably their last crack at the World Cup.”
Hastings, along with Kinghorn, Darcy Graham and others, should have other chances, especially if he fulfills the promise predicted by Warriors coach Dave Rennie who back in May said he has the potential to be better than Finn Russell. He winces when I mention this but, good lad that he is, indulges me in a discussion about their relative merits at 10: “Finn’s a friend and a fantastic player so I don’t really want to start bagging him, but I’d maybe say I’ve got more of a running game than him. Emphasise the ‘maybe’. But he’s a very good defender and I’ve got strides to make there. He’s got a brilliant passing game as well; I’d describe mine as good. I’d actually say we’re quite similar players. Is this the season I challenge him? First, I need to do well at Glasgow. I need to get better if I want to play for Scotland. And I need to give Gregor a reason to pick me.”
There is no significant other in his life right now, Hastings reasoning that a stepped-up commitment to his sport makes him too “selfish” for a potential girlfriend. And if it sounds like a tough gig, waiting for the dazzlingly inventive Russell to run out of tricks, then don’t forget the name Hastings has to offer at the door and the expectation that comes with that.
This manifested itself the very first time he picked up the oval ball, other young hopefuls suspecting he was benefiting from nepotism. But he felt no pressure to follow Gavin, initially preferring football. “That wasn’t me striking out on my own, I just got frustrated with the lack of contact in boys’ rugby. Mind you, with the hits being what they are now, I wouldn’t mind contact-free. Rugby filled our house. The likes of Tony Stanger and Kenny Logan were family friends. Dad took me to Murrayfield and I decided: ‘I’m doing this.’ It’s because he played that I’m playing. I wanted to be like Dad.”
Now, mention of hits and the damage they can do to good looks will doubtless amuse those who’ve had Twittersome fun with a tribute to Hastings’ barnet. He says: “I try and avoid social media now. Some folk might write nice comments but it’s always the three rotten ones you’ll remember. I mean, an account dedicated to my hair – that’s funny. But it possibly encourages the idea that I’m preoccupied with how I look. If I have bad game someone will write: ‘He cares too much about his hair.’ Really? …” Just as well I say that there isn’t the same weird fascination about his fine set of gnashers. “I know, and I hope it stays that way.” Come on, though, rugby changing-rooms can be unforgivingly banterful places – how often is he subject to the teeth ’n’ hair jibes? “Oh, every day!”
So Hastings the Younger will keep taking the blows, keep striving for awesomeness and happy days, but happy in the knowledge there’s at least one person who reckons he produces rugby which deserves the epithets “lustrous” and “gleaming” every time. “Mum thinks I always play well, even when I’ve had a shocker,” he laughs. “So after those crap games I just go and chat to her and she makes me feel a whole lot better!”