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Six Nations: ‘Best Scotland have ever played against England,’ says legend Scott Hastings ahead of Perth event

Gavin Hastings (left) and Scott Hastings. Image: Floodlight Entertainment
Gavin Hastings (left) and Scott Hastings. Image: Floodlight Entertainment

Amid Six Nations fever, Michael Alexander speaks to former Scotland rugby legend Scott Hastings about his life, career and relationship with his brother Gavin as they prepare to host an ‘audience with’ type event in Perth.

He is one of the legendary Hastings brothers who helped Scotland win their famous rugby Grand Slam against England in 1990.

But when Scott Hastings reflects on Scotland turning Calcutta Cup history on its head a few weeks ago with a stunning Six Nations victory against a spirited England at Twickenham, he believes his own experiences of playing against the Auld Enemy may have been eclipsed.

‘Quite outstanding’

“That was the best Scotland have ever played in their history against England – seriously,” said Scott in an interview with The Courier.

“The quality of the rugby, the quality of the tries – especially the winning try – was quite outstanding.

“For Scotland to literally run the length of the pitch and score that was absolutely amazing. For me it was right up there!”

Hastings had the “absolute privilege” of being part of the ITV commentary team for the game on February 4, which saw Duhan van der Merwe‘s late try give Scotland back-to-back wins at Twickenham for the first time.

Being in the stadium was “magnificent”, because two years ago when Scotland won down there for the first time since 1983, there were no fans in the ground because of Covid-19.

The fact the Scotland supporters were able to go to Twickenham in numbers and stay in full voice and celebrate a win was “phenomenal”.

The fact that this was Scotland’s third successive Calcutta Cup victory was also “outstanding”.

Memories of own games versus England

However, it also brought back memories for Scott about his own games against England as a Scotland international.

“Twickenham was always a hard place to go,” he said.

“I played against England 11 times.

Scott Hastings doing commentary for Sky in 2016. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

“It was a tough old game. England were always one of your toughest opponents.

“But for Scotland, myself and my brother Gavin will always be remembered for the 1990 Grand Slam when Scotland beat England to take not only the Grand Slam trophy, but the Five Nations Championship, the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam.

“That was a pretty unique occasion in Scottish sport.

“Bearing in mind that Scotland have only won three Grand Slams in their whole history.”

‘Extraordinary feeling’ to sing anthem

As a rugby supporter, Scott will sing the national anthem, Flower of Scotland, as passionately as the next person.

However, it was an “extraordinary feeling” to sing it as a player on the pitch.

“I suppose I’m a supporter as well as anybody,” he said.

“Ahead of the England game, I was outside looking in. But when you’re inside looking out it’s a very very special feeling.

“There’s a huge amount of pride when you represent your country at any sport.

“With rugby, and given the context, especially of a Calcutta Cup, the oldest international fixture in world rugby, then it is a very, very unique occasion.

“The old rivalries between Scotland and England that go down through an amazing amount of years.”

Special event in Perth

Scotland’s hopes of a successful Six Nations Championship were, of course, further boosted a week after the England game when the side orchestrated by Finn Russell outplayed Wales to claim an emphatic 35-7 victory, and a record home win at Murrayfield against the Welsh.

Thoughts now turn to Scotland facing the French in Paris on February 26, followed by a tough clash against Ireland – currently, the world’s number one ranked side – at Murrayfield on March 12.

With just about everyone talking rugby, however, the timing could hardly be better for a special event being organised by Scott and Gavin Hastings in Perth.

The Battle of Hastings event at Perth Concert Hall on the evening of Thursday March 9 will see the Hastings brothers give a “revealing insight” into their careers and how rugby has changed over the decades from their predominantly amateur-era careers.

“We were approached by Floodlight Entertainment to get involved in this,” said Scott.

“It just gave us an opportunity to perhaps go out to the fan base away from the traditional strongholds of the Central Belt and come up to Perth and just extoll the kind of virtues that we had of the game.

Battle of Hastings advert.

“But also to offer our reflections on the modern game and what it means for this current crop of players to play for their country.

“Gavin and I played over 50 times for our country.

“We had some fantastic times, and we want to tell a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes – the fun that we had. Ultimately the sport that’s given us so much pleasure.”

Highlights – but not a rugby ‘career’

Scott, now 58, was Scotland’s most-capped player when he retired from international rugby.

He played for Edinburgh District and Edinburgh Rugby, and at amateur level, he played for Watsonians.

At international level, he was a full back when capped by Scotland Schools.

He received a Scotland ‘B’ camp against ‘Italy B’ in 1985 when he played at full back.

Chris Gray (centre) with Tony Stanger, John Jeffrey, Scott Hastings and Craig Chalmers after Stanger’s try for Scotland Scotland (13) v England (7), Murrayfield. Image: Shutterstock

He then won 65 full senior caps at centre for Scotland from 1986 to 1997.

Both Scott and his older brother Gavin won their first full senior cap for Scotland on January 17, 1986, against France.

He also played for the British Lions.

But what was it like playing alongside his brother at such a high level of Scottish sport?

“It was kind of unique,” laughed Scott.

“There was just this wonderful understanding – I suppose a wonderful friendship that we still have to this day.

“Both of us were down at Twickenham for the recent game.

Former Scotland international rugby player Gavin Hastings outside Melrose Parish Church at the recent Doddie Weir memorial service. Image: Shutterstock

“We were in each others’ company. We like ribbing each other. We get on well with each other.

“People obviously remember myself and Gavin. But we have an elder brother Graham who lives in Australia and a younger brother Euan.

“So there were four Hastings boys growing up in our family when we were youngsters, and that was also part of the rivalry and fun that we all had, that not many people know about.”

Was there ‘rivalry’ between brothers?

Scott recalls there used to be an old contest called the Inter District Championship.

He was playing for Edinburgh when Gavin was playing for the Anglo-Scots.

They played against each other and at one point were competing for the same Scotland jersey.

But when Scott moved into the centre position, and Gavin became full back, this paved the way for them both to be selected.

“We got capped on the same day back in January 1986,” said Scott, “and we’ve kind of never looked back since then.

“It was a wonderful time in our careers.

“We played in many a Scotland victory. We played for the British and Irish Lions together.

“We toured together. That kind of cemented our friendship and our love for the game.

“I mentioned the 1990 Grand Slam game – that was very special.

“But I think you’ve got to just look at the first time we played rugby for Scotland together.

“We were both capped on the very same day which was pretty unique in terms of Scottish sport.

Scott Hastings.

“To walk out onto Murrayfield with your elder brother with you was just a marvellous occasion for our mum and dad and for my family.

“It’s a day we’ll always treasure.

“Gavin would you believe knocked over six penalties that day and we beat France 18-17.

“An absolute thriller of a game. To be together making our Scotland debuts was what made it even more special.”

Changes to the game

Scott said he hopes the Perth event will be a “fun” evening.

They also hope to reflect on where the game of rugby is and what sport means to them.

They’ve represented their country throughout the world, and want to inspire others.

Scott mentions that Gavin’s son Adam Hastings has been part of Scottish rugby union’s success in recent years. Unfortunately, he’s been injured of late.

Adam Hastings in 2021.

However, it keeps the Hastings name in the international sporting spotlight, as does Scott’s daughter Kerry-Anne who is part of Scotland women’s hockey team.

Through her, he’s reminded how much sport has changed since he played with the development of sport science.

“Kerry-Anne is very fortunate in her sport hockey to get access to not only the Scottish Institute of Sport and everything that goes with that from nutritionists to dieticians to performance coaching – that’s both strength and conditioning – but also to psychology and psychiatry,” he said.

“It’s an amazing multi-layered environment.

“Sport as I call it now is called performance sport.

Adam Hastings of Scotland scores a try to make it 12-12 v Fiji in autumn tests. Image: COLORSPORT/Bruce White

“It’s all about making sure that the athlete prepares and is in an environment that delivers top performance.

“Undoubtedly not only the hockey girls are well prepared but the rugby guys nowadays – no stone is left unturned with the coaching expertise, video analysis that goes into the game now.”

Turning the game professional

Another change is the money side of the game.

Scott and Gavin played in the amateur era which meant they had to juggle their day jobs alongside international rugby.

Scott worked for an advertising agency while Gavin was a quantity surveyor in his early career, moving into sports management and sponsorship. They ran an events agency for many years.

Grand Slam celebrations in 1990 while still amateurs. Image: Shutterstock

Scott signed professionally for about 1.5 years towards the end of his career after rugby went professional in 1995. More recently he’s found a career in media.

Friendship with Doddie Weir

It would be remiss of course not to ask Scott about his friendship with late Scottish rugby legend Doddie Weir who died of motor neurone disease aged 52 in November.

Scotland’s victory against Wales the other week also poignantly saw them lift the Doddie Weir Cup in what was their first home match since he passed away.

“Doddie was first and foremost a wonderful friend and character around the rugby arena,” said Scott.

“He was just a guy you looked up to, not only because he was so tall at 6’8” but he was a real character as well.

Doddie Weir presents the match ball to Jamie Ritchie before the New Zealand test in November.

“He was just a lovely man to be around.

“I ended up for five and a bit years chairing his foundation – passionately fundraising and supporting him in his quest to raise money to find a cure for MND by investing in research.

“We still have a long way to go, but his legacy will be that we will carry on and find a cure and raise the funds to allow the best researchers and the best medical brains to find a cure for this awful disease.”

Is rugby safe?

Scott is satisfied there is “no link at this moment in time” that’s been established between the physicality of rugby and MND.

Refereed correctly, coached correctly and administered correctly, he believes rugby can continue being a game “for all shapes, sizes and sexes”.

He takes great pleasure in seeing the game still being played by thousands of people every Saturday in a safe environment.

But he acknowledges the game does have to ensure the safety of players, and if that means more research, then that needs to be looked into.

“Ultimately more work has to be done into the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s and the way footballers for example have had brain injury and trouble there,” he added.

Cancer battle

One area that he will “probably not” talk about during the Perth event is his own illness a few years ago.

He was diagnosed with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. He’s since been treated and is in remission.

However, he accepts this as “part of the challenges of life”, adding that: “I’ve lost friends, as we all have, to cancer, I’ve lost a friend in Doddie Weir to motor neurone disease.

Gavin and Scott Hastings promoting the Class of 1984 and 1990 Grand Slam celebration dinner that took place in 2022. Photo: Craig Williamson/SNS Group

“Those are some of the ups and downs of life that we all have to cope with through family and friends that we’ve all lost.

“There have been some tragic circumstances.

“But I don’t think we’ll probably touch upon that.

“I’d rather look back at our rugby careers and our contribution to Scottish sport and the fun that we had.

“The Perth event is going to be a warm and intimate environment.

“The fact that we are in the thrust of the Six Nations allows us to chat about sport in an open and fun way.”

Details of the Perth event

*Battle of Hastings, Perth Concert Hall, Thursday March 9, 7:30pm. Ticket price: £33.50 (inc £2.50 booking fee per ticket) VIP Meet And Greet add-on: £45.