Hastings eyes the final battle

RUGBY UNION WORLD CUP 1995 Scotland's captain contemplates retiring from play but looks forward to future developments. Tim Glover reports
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The Independent Online
If Gavin Hastings derided the Scotland hierarchy as Will Carling did the English, would we have witnessed a similar result? Probably not. Hastings goes in for modelling rugged outdoor wear and is unlikely to be seen in shorts and singlet with a bottle of champagne in one hand and a mobile phone in the other.

The Scotland captain enjoys unprecedented popularity and, like Carling, he wants more out of the game. In that respect his timing is not perfect. Hastings' retirement from international rugby coincides with the World Cup, after which he predicts for the game a "huge explosion of dramatic change".

Will rugby go professional? "It's got to, hasn't it? With millions of pounds coming in, something has to give. There comes a time when players can't dedicate themselves more and more without justifiably asking for a return. The rugby unions around the world are under pressure."

None more so than the Rugby Football Union, whose disjointed attempt to discipline Carling, the leader of the Oliver Twist XV, ended in a handshake which was meant to bridge a generation gap. "I did not agree with the sacking of Will Carling," Hastings said, "but what happened after that is of benefit to England. A lot of people underestimated the popularity of Carling and the RFU were humble enough to admit they made a mistake.

"Not many people talked about how the TV programme was made. It was all turned around out of context. We've all been caught out saying something we didn't mean to say. On the subject of the England captain I've been quoted as saying that I hate the bastard. The fact is I never said it. Often you don't get a chance to defend yourself."

As for a newspaper report that the Scottish players could receive pounds 10,000 a man over the next month, Hastings dismissed it as "total nonsense." Hastings and his team dip into a players' trust and although it would be small beer (or more accurately a wee dram since the team sponsors are Famous Grouse) compared to the sums being quoted for the Australians - pounds 40,000 each - the Scottish Rugby Union has moved considerably from its Scrooge-like image.

"I'm not suggesting everybody should receive 40 grand but there has to be some recognition of the effort required," Hastings said. "We are not on a level playing field. We get little out of the game but we work as hard as any other international side. People get treated differently and it's simply not fair. It's not a moan, it's a statement of fact. When the laws are broken the International Rugby Board says prove it. They should be proving it, not turning a blind eye. For the most part employers are subsidising international players."

Hastings' employer is Carnegie Sports International in Edinburgh, a sort of tartan IMG. The company manages the careers of a number of professional golfers (golf is Hastings' other bag) and is involved in the SRU's marketing campaign. Part of Hastings' job is to sell debentures, thus his performance on the field is tied to his activities off it. In effect he sold tickets at the box office and then nipped into the dressing-room before appearing centre stage.

After captaining the Lions in New Zealand two summers ago, Hastings was so jaded and ponderous Scotland failed to win a single match in the Five Nations and were annihilated at Murrayfield by South Africa. In all Scotland went nine games without a win and Hastings, in print at least, was being pointed towards a Highlands retirement home.

Then, after winning 50 caps and at the age of 33, he stopped fumbling his lines. He took what he described as a more scientific approach to training. "I knew what I needed to do. I've always had confidence in my ability." The team also enlisted the help of an Edinburgh psychologist. The transformation in Hastings inspired Scotland to a string of victories this season, the highlight being their first triumph over France in Paris since 1969.

With a minute remaining, Scotland needed seven points to win and Hastings, with the help of Gregor Townsend, scored a try under the posts. The SRU bill for champagne rocked the Royal Bank of Scotland but when Hastings returned to his day-job he could have sold debentures standing on the terraces at Ibrox.

In a friendly against Romania last month he scored another try and pushed his points total for Scotland past 550. It was his last appearance at Murrayfield he had helped to build and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Why bow out now? "I always find myself looking at the ages of the opposition and you don't find many 33-year-olds. I've had 10 years at the top. The time is right and the occasion is right. It's a young man's game. I've worked my socks off to be as fit as I am."

Scotland, who travelled to South Africa after spending a week training and playing at altitude in Spain, are 25-1 for the World Cup and Hastings likes the odds. "The Spanish trip accomplished a hell of a lot. I'll be surprised if there are many teams as fit as us. We will not sell ourselves short." It's possible, of course, that if and when the Big Bang happens - a European club competition will start next season to rival the southern hemisphere's Super 10 - Big Gavin will be in a position, off the field, to exploit his sports management skills. After all, he's been there, done it and sold the debenture.

GAVIN HASTINGS' CAREER

Born: Edinburgh, 3 Jan 1962.

Clubs: Cambridge University, London Scottish, Watsonians.

1986: Debut for Scotland in 18-17 victory over France at Murrayfield and set Scottish record with six penalties. Scored 52 points in the Five Nations, another record.

1987: Scored 62 points in four games in the first World Cup. Broke Scottish record with 27 against Romania.

1989: Scored a try and 15 points for the Lions in decisive second Test against Australia.

1990: Scotland won the Grand Slam and Hastings led London Scottish to Courage League Third Division title.

1991: Led Watsonians to promotion to McEwan's League First Division. In World Cup semi-final Scotland lost to England after Hastings missed a penalty in front of the posts.

1993: As Scotland skipper he scored 32 points in the Five Nations and was awarded the captaincy of the Lions tour to New Zealand.

1994: Scotland finish bottom in the Five Nations.

1995: Becomes the most capped player in Scotland's history and scores winning try for first victory in Paris in 26 years. Beat his own Five Nations' points record with 56.

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