OCTOBER is a big month for Adam Hastings. He kicks off the new PRO14 season with Glasgow on Saturday, celebrates his 24th birthday a couple of days later, and soon afterwards should be named in the Scotland squad for this autumn’s half-dozen internationals. Although of course merely being named in the squad will hardly be enough for the Warriors stand-off: having started all four of the team’s Six Nations matches to date this year, his aim is to keep a firm grasp on the jersey throughout the season.
With Finn Russell having apparently patched up his differences with national coach Gregor Townsend and Edinburgh fly-half Jaco van der Walt about to become Scottish qualified, Hastings faces more competition for that starting berth than he did back in February and March. But he welcomes the pressure that those two will put on him, confident that it can only help drive up standards for all concerned.
“Yeah, competition’s good,” he said. “It pushes you to be better and to stay on top of things. If I’m involved in the Scotland squad I’m looking forward to linking back up. I always enjoy training in international camps: the standard’s really high and it’s extremely quick, and you come out of these camps and the games you play feeling a lot sharper.
“Playing for Scotland is a huge honour. It’s a thing you dream of and you want to be involved every week, so of course I want to be involved in those games. It’s just about playing well in the next few PRO14 fixtures before that squad is picked and putting yourself in the best position. So yeah, I can’t wait.
“I had a few [Scotland] starts before. It was just good to be thrust into that role. I felt like I had a lot of pressure on me and I felt like I came out at the end with a few bumps and bruises, but I felt like I’d really earned it and done well. ”
The victory against France which came shortly before the March lockdown was Hastings’ 20th cap and his 11th start, so it was not as if he was an entirely unknown quantity at Test level before the Six Nations. But the aplomb with which he played against the French perhaps marked a coming of age in international rugby, particularly as it followed what by his own admission was a sub-standard performance in Italy, albeit as part of a winning team.
“It was nice to finish on that France game. It would have been good to go to Wales – we were hitting our straps – but it sat well with me finishing on that game and the way we were playing.
“It was really good to get involved. It’s probably increased my drive to play in them again, because it’s so enjoyable – as soon as you come off you just want to play again.
“The Italy game wasn’t my best, especially with the boot, but I’ve had times where I’ve had a bad run and I’ve always managed to come out the other side fighting. It was a good reminder of what hard work can do. You’ll always have bad games, and I’m no stranger to that, so I’m working on my consistency. But it’s all about the next game and getting straight back on it and putting in a good performance after you’ve had a bad one.”
He may remain an inconsistent performer in Tests, but his displays for Glasgow have been steadily more solid since he succeeded Russell as the team’s first-choice fly-half two years ago. “I’ve matured a bit,” he accepted. “Yeah, just probably more confident. When Finn left I hadn’t played a lot of games professionally, let alone for Glasgow. Over the past couple of seasons I’ve had however many games in a Glasgow shirt and a few more in a Scotland shirt as well, so yeah, I think just a lot more experienced in bigger games and tighter situations, which helps.
“I think as a fly-half you’ve always got to be in that leadership role, because you’re effectively running the team with the nine. You’re deciding where you’re going; you’re making those key decisions in the middle of the pitch.
“I think as a young player you’re thrust into that role early and you’ve got to take charge. I’ve probably been a bit more vocal in team huddles this year and trying to make sure things are going along.”
So, after a season in which Glasgow failed to make the play-offs, what would constitute success this time round? “Winning some silverware is always the goal,” Hastings continued. “The season before last we got to the final, and last season I think we would have made the knockouts if the season had ended normally.
“So I think winning some silverware is the goal, and we’ve got the team to win it. Leone [Nakarawa] staying is a big boost for us, as is Richie [Gray] coming in. So we’ve got a couple of good new signings and we’re raring to go. I think we’ve got a good environment here: there’s a lot of older heads as well to share their wisdom, so it’s a good mix.”
Of course, several older heads have moved on as well, including former coach Dave Rennie, who since leaving to become the Wallabies’ head coach has been criticised by some former Glasgow players for his perceived indifference to some fringe members of the squad. Hastings, however, has nothing but praise for his old boss.
“Obviously boys have had different experiences with him, and you can’t please everyone as a head coach, and he certainly didn’t please me at times – he dropped me for a month and a half and I wanted to rip his head off. But we had some honest conversations and I honestly couldn’t say a bad word about him: what he’s done for me is brilliant.”
Since taking over from Rennie, Danny Wilson has emphasised the need to tighten up in defence, and to cut down on turnovers conceded within their own half. But he has also made it plain that there is no need to reinvent the wheel at Scotstoun, and Hastings, for one, appreciates what he is trying to do.
“Yeah, it’s like a mechanic shop – he’s just changing parts on the car. It’s been good. He’s given us a new string to our bow. In the first two games we played it was just getting back into things, so I’m excited to get a run of games, hopefully, now, and put them together.”
“I don’t think there’s too much of a change in style. Danny has brought in a few new things, but there’s still a very exciting group of players – a lot of flair in there, a lot of speed. There’s a lot of very, very skilful players, especially in the backs.
“The game is changing as well, and there are certain stats that you can’t ignore. So I think we’re trying to implement ways to combat those things.”
Any new approach tends to take a few games to bed in, and it should be said that the Warriors have been handed a slight handicap by their early fixture list. While Edinburgh, for example, have games on two successive Saturdays, then two Sundays and then four Mondays, Glasgow only once play back-to-back games on the same day of the week in those eight opening rounds.
But at least the campaign begins familiarly enough for them with a game against Connacht in Galway, where they played – and won – their opening fixture in three of the past four years. In 2016 they got their season off to a particularly morale-boosting start with a massive 41-5 victory, but the other two results were far closer and Hastings does not expect an easy afternoon.
“It’s a great place to go. It’s a shame the fans aren’t going to be there, because I always enjoy the Connacht crowd because they’re good at getting into you and making you feel like you’re not at home. It’s a tough place to go – the first of my two times there was my debut and it was horrific, with horizontal rain, but the second time was like the Caribbean, so I’m hoping for that again.”