ADAM HASTINGS turned off his social media and stopped listening to all the tittle-tattle in the press and elsewhere during the build-up to Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium – but there was one person he was glad to hear from when his phone buzzed [for a FaceTime call on Friday and with a text message before kick-off on Saturday], and that was the guy he was replacing as Scotland’s chief playmaker.
Finn Russell’s decision to walk out of the Scotland camp less than two weeks before their championship got underway thrust Hastings into the limelight – but the rivalry between the two stand-offs has always been very positive and the mutual respect is clearly still there.
“Finn is a class bloke, he’s been brilliant with me ever since I arrived at Glasgow a few years ago, he’s been a good friend of mine ever since,” said Hastings, who is the first member of the squad to speak sympathetically in public about Russell since his highly publicised walk-out.
“It was really nice of him to text me and it helped make me feel comfortable,” he added. “At the end of the day, we’re still mates and we look out for each other. For someone in his position to do that meant the world. It was really nice. He’s fully Scottish and he wanted to play for Scotland, which he has done very well [in the past]. He was wishing us all the best so there is no bad blood at all.”
That might be the case between the two players, but the situation between Russell and the Scotland head coach is clearly not quite so straight-forward, with Gregor Townsend sounding doubtful when asked about the prospect of a reconciliation before next week’s Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield against an England team likely to be breathing fire after their opening weekend loss to France.
“We will see,” said Townsend. “It is not something I have thought about since the end of the game. I believe cohesion helped how we played [against Ireland]. For anybody who has missed the last two weeks it will be difficult to get into the squad.”
Taking it in his stride
As a naturally self-confident individual, there was never really any doubt that Hastings would embrace the challenge of his sudden elevation – but he did take measures to ensure he did not become distracted by all the noise surrounding the Russell affair.
“There is always a focus on the number ten so there was nothing which was new in that sense,” he explained. “It was more the twitter and keyboard warriors coming out and labelling you, but I just came off social media and deleted my twitter account, so I didn’t read any of it.
“I’ve deleted my account a couple of times before. I did it before the PRO14 Grand Final at Celtic Park and I did it this week. I thought it would all kick-off just after the whole thing with Finn, so I took myself away from that.
“Maybe when I was younger, I would have been into it and read it and allowed it to get into my head, but I’ve stayed off it this time … although I might download it tonight and have a wee read.”
Anything he does read about himself after Saturday’s match is bound to be fairly positive. Hastings may have had a fairly low-key game by his own often extrovert standards, but he was quietly authoritative and assured, which was exactly what the team needed in the circumstances. He kicked all of his team’s points from the tee [although he was disappointed to miss one], and ensured that the boys in blue spent more than their fair share of the game on the front foot – even if he couldn’t quite manage to conjure the moment of magic required to break Ireland’s excellent defence for a try.
All of this will inevitably factor into Townsend’s thought-process as he considers a Russell recall. “Adam was excellent,” the coach stressed. “We could have done with more possession in his hands because in the first five minutes, and at different times in the first half, he was making some good decisions on when to attack. His passing was excellent, and he defended well.
“In his first Six Nations start he was a running threat, so defences have to look at him and worry about his passing game. He got penalised for two high tackles and I will have to have a look at that, but he was putting his body into it. Overall, I was very pleased with his performance.”
Townsend added that the blame for defeat should not be heaped at Stuart Hogg’s door after the full-back uncharacteristically dropped the ball in the act of scoring what looked certain to be a game-changing try. The coach lavished praise on the player instead for his all-round performance against Ireland and his conduct during a tough first two weeks as captain.
“He was ill on Thursday, missed training and was in his bed. The adversity the team has gone through and how Stuart has led the team with so many challenges in front of him gives me great encouragement in terms of how great a captain he can be over the next few years.”