WHEN Dave Rennie insisted last Friday that Adam Hastings could become a better player than Finn Russell, a few eyebrows were raised. Were the Glasgow coach’s words in a BBC interview the day before the game against Edinburgh merely designed to boost his stand-off’s confidence? And if he was voicing a sincere opinion, how much emphasis should be placed on that word ‘could’?
After seeing his Warriors team beat their rivals 34-10, Rennie was certainly in no mood to revise his opinion. Hastings himself said the remarks had helped with his confidence rather than heaping pressure on him, so in that respect they had the desired effect. But they were sincerely meant too, the coach insisted.
“I reckon he will be [better than Russell],” Rennie said. “Finn is world class on his best day, absolute world class. What I was talking about was the consistency of his performances. Adam is a bit like that too.
“The thing I love about Adam is that he is so competitive, his work rate is huge, and his ability to connect behind the forwards quickly is better than Finn’s and that means we have real, genuine threats around there. Finn is a fantastic distributor, a fantastic tackler – all I’m saying is that Adam has the potential to be better than Finn.”
Certainly, Hastings has made a considerable and sustained improvement this season, the Warriors’ first since Russell left for Racing 92. Playing for Currie at times last season when he was unable to get into the Glasgow squad, Hastings was by no means guaranteed a regular place this season. At times Rennie preferred Pete Horne’s greater experience, at others he opted for Brandon Thomson.
But, while both those players are more than capable of fulfilling the role, Hastings is now the undisputed first-choice stand-off at the club. He remains reminiscent of Russell in his occasional penchant for the high-risk venture, but that attitude is in keeping with Glasgow’s adventurous approach as a whole. And in any case, as he is at 22 four years younger than his predecessor in the No 10 jersey, who is to say that he will not, given another couple of seasons’ exposure to playing at the highest level, reach greater heights than his rival?
No doubt Hastings himself would rather not be compared to Russell throughout his career, especially after many years of being reminded on more than the odd occasion that his father Gavin was a decent player in his day. After the win over Edinburgh, however, he was happy to say that Rennie’s comments had been beneficial.
“A confidence boost,” was how he described them. “The best thing about Rens is that he backs all of us. You can see that from the way he throws boys in when he thinks they’re ready. It was nice to hear, but not on my mind too much.”
What was on his mind was quite simply the joy of getting the better of Edinburgh after two defeats earlier in the season – and the prospect of a PRO14 semi-final at Scotstoun against either Ulster or Connacht. “Personally, it was nice to get the monkey off my back. I thought I lost that first game for us and played poorly over that Christmas period. It was really important for me to get that win and me to go half decent.
“We were so pleased with the way we played when we had the ball, and we took our chances very well. At the start of the second half I think we could have held onto the ball a bit more and build pressure. Off the back of that we ended up D-ing for a long time. But it was pleasing that we kept them out for a large chunk of the game.
“You play for these big games. It is always pleasing to come out on top. They’ve beaten us twice this season and they’re the only team to beat us at home [in the league], so that was a big scalp for us.
“The best thing about us right now is we’re staying firmly grounded. We’ve had three massive wins now and every week we’ve said we have to do it again. That will be the mindset going forward. It’s knock-out now and we have a potential two more games and we’re there.”
While Rennie plans a training game against another PRO14 side in around a week’s time, Glasgow will have three weeks between competitive games, while the team they meet in their semi-final at Scotstoun will have played a week later. But the long wait is not a concern to Hastings, who is convinced that his squad will be up for the fight when it comes.
“We had a week off last week, we weren’t playing. We’ve come out [against Edinburgh] and played well. As long as we stay focused and train well it shouldn’t be a problem. Whoever we play it’s going to be a good game – it’s knockout rugby, so everybody will lift their game.”