REGRETS? He has a few. But then again, too few to mention. The irrepressible Scott Hastings is looking well – sitting in the front room of his home, a stone’s throw away from Goldenacre, which was, of course, enemy territory back in his playing days as a dyed-in-the-wool Watsonian – but he’s feeling reflective.
Little wonder. It is, after all, the end of a year which has seen the 1990 Grand Slam hero face his own brush with mortality through a six-week course of chemotherapy, whilst also dealing with the loss of some great friends, including (but not restricted to) fellow Scotland greats Doddie Weir and Tom Smith, Watsonians stalwart Iain ‘Stavros’ Leslie, former Watsonians team-mate Clive Millar, and former SRU doctor and President Donald Macleod.
“I got in touch with the BBC’s Sport’s Personality of the Year Awards to try to get them on their televised roll of honour, but there a lot of other famous people,” he reveals. “However, Gary Lineker said that there is a list on the website, so I’m glad to see those guys get their names up there.
“There was also this great guy from York rugby club we got to know called Ricky Richardson, so I just texted his daughter to tell her that her father’s name is listed amongst all those greats. That’s what I love about the game … that you are part of it, no matter what level you are involved at.”
And so, we are off and running, with the memories and insights and random thoughts spilling out thick and fast. You get a flavour of how ‘Battle of Hastings – an audience with Gavin and Scott Hastings’, which he is co-hosting with his brother at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre on 7th March and Perth Concert Hall on 9th March might go.
“Of course, most of my career was spent in the old amateur days when everything in Scottish rugby was run by committee,” he recalls. “And there was this guy called Ian MacGregor who was chairman of selectors [for the Scotland national team], and he said to me just before my first cap: ‘Remember, you didn’t get my effing vote!’ Now what sort of motivation is that for a 21-year-old? The chairman of selectors telling you that just a week before you get your first cap for Scotland. Just bizarre!”
Rugby is much more touchy-feely now than it was back in 1986 – when the Hastings brothers alongside David Sole, Finlay Calder, Jeremy Campbell-Lamerton and Matt Duncan all took the international bows in that season’s Five Nations opener against France – but that certainly doesn’t mean that the modern players have it easy.
“You hear about the modern-day players and the way they struggle with replacing the love of their life, which is the game,” reflects Hastings. “Suddenly, something like an injury – or a team going bust as we’ve seen down in England – hits them, and they don’t have the fall-back position we had which was our work.”
Hastings is the Duracell Bunny of Scottish rugby. Non-stop positive energy. But it would be misguided to assume that he floats along oblivious to the trials and tribulations of life as us realists experience it.
“The highs and the lows,” he sighs. “To this day, the lows of losing games and the hurt that happens … it doesn’t go away. I get reminded on social media, especially.
“I received one [message on social media] the other day when I was on GMTV as a proud Scotsman talking about my friend Doddie and some guy comes on saying ‘posh toff’ then absolutely lays into me because I have represented my country and still want to be part of the United Kingdom. He said something about me still rabbiting on about a dead man.
“That’s the stuff that used to keep me awake at night, but it doesn’t anymore,” he adds, defiantly. “We need to take that guy down to the rugby club and give him a rucking session – not to hurt him – but rugby, for me, gave me a discipline in my life, and part of that is a respect for others.
“It really upsets me when I get a name wrong on screen, or something like that,” he continues, segueing into his role as a rugby pundit and commentator. “That used to be because you get absolutely pilloried by somebody on Twitter for a genuine mistake made in the heat of the moment, but I realise now that it goes with the territory.
“Now, if I get a name wrong it still upsets me, but I try to make sure that it is because I am annoyed with myself rather than because of what some – usually faceless – character on social media says.
“One of the other things that gives me sleepless nights is thinking about how I had a chance to hit Émile Ntamack in the last moment of the game against France at Loftus Versfeld [during the final pool game of the 1995 World Cup],” he continues. “But he checked my stride just as I lunged for him, and I still play the picture in my mind of me screaming because I hadn’t managed to stop him as we both went over the line.
“Every time a Rugby World Cup comes around, every time we play France in the Six Nations, I still have this indelible imprinted visual of Ntamack scoring that try – because if I had hit him like I wanted to then our rugby destiny at that World Cup would have been totally different.
“We would have played Ireland – who weren’t great in those days – in the quarter-final, whereas we hit the All Blacks and played an incredible game of rugby but, unfortunately, as we all know, no Scotland team has ever beaten New Zealand.”
Back to the present, and plenty of excitement at the prospect of being involved in next year’s World Cup – all the more so because of his recent battle with cancer.
“Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a very treatable cancer which first appeared for me five years ago with a lump on my neck,” he explained. “So, I ran along to the Western General every day to get treatment and they couldn’t quite believe I was doing that, because I was getting treatment alongside some people who were in a serious way, and I guess I was a bit blasé about it.
“But they keep you in the system, and the NHS were fantastic, then in January this year they found another lump in my groin which they analysed and scanned, which found that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes internally, so it was six chemo sessions which knocks you for six.
“Fortunately, at the back end of September, I got news that I was in remission. I’ll still need maintenance treatment over the next couple of years, but as it stands, I’ll keep on enjoying life as it comes.
He continues: “The media route became a natural progression on the back of my career, and thankfully I’ve had some longevity in that, which has involved me having some of the best seats in some of the best stadiums in the world, announcing some fantastic games whether it be sevens – which is a real passion of mine – right the way through to internationals and World Cups, working with ITV, Sky Sports, BT Sport, and moving from being a colour voice as in the second voice, to being the lead voice commentator, which is a tough job.
“I’m very grateful to the support I’ve had, but I’ve used my networks to ensure that I am still relevant within the game. I still do my homework on the game, which is really important because you can’t wing it in this business.
“But I also just enjoy getting out and watching a club game if I have a free Saturday. I’ve got a lot of friends at the Nails [Heriot’s] so I’ll wait until after half-time and nip in there to avoid giving them a tenner!” he winks. “Or I’ll go up to Stewart’s Melville to watch the odd game, and I’ve not been down to Bangholm [Trinity Accies] yet to see their new clubhouse, but I’ll have to make sure I do that soon.
“There was one day I was wandering through Inverleith Park, and there’s Fin Calder, looking after Stew-Mel’s 3rd XV, and he’s got his brother Jim along as well. It was 12 versus 13 with Stew-Mel having lent a few players to Edinburgh Northern. I sat there for 20 minutes watching this great game of rugby being played out on a public park near my house, and I think: ‘How lucky am I to be a part of this?’
“When you get into this environment where you have these incredible individuals who work their socks off to give boys and girls the opportunity to play this great game for the club they love … there is nothing better.”
- Tickets to ‘Battle of Hastings – an audience with Gavin and Scott Hastings’ can be the ideal last minute Christmas present for any rugby fan. Click HERE for the Edinburgh Festival Theatre event on 7th March, and HERE for the Perth Concert Hall on 9th March.