Hastings graces Murrayfield one last time

RUGBY UNION
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It was the best of times, the worst of times. With his first touch in international rugby Gavin Hastings kicked off and sent a ball straight into touch.

"I thought, oh dear, the forwards aren't going to be very happy with me," Hastings said.

That was the least of his problems. France, instead of opting for the orthodox with a scrum on the half-way line, took a quick throw from the touchline. "The next thing I saw was about seven Frenchmen running towards me and I thought, our backs aren't going to be terribly chuffed either," Hastings recalled.

The result was that Pierre Berbizier, then a French scrum-half now the coach, scored one of the most astounding tries ever seen at Murrayfield. Such a traumatic start would have un-nerved most debutants but that afternoon nine years ago Hastings proceeded to kick six penalties and Scotland won 18-17.

Hastings went on to score 52 points that season, setting a Scottish record in the Five Nations' Championship. This year he surpassed that, scoring 56 points and today, in a World Cup warm-up match against Romania, he makes his last appearance at Murrayfield. Hastings wins his 57th cap and captains Scotland for the 16th time. Not only is he Scotland's most capped player but easily their leading scorer with 544 points. Before the completion of the World Cup in South Africa in June he could pass 600 points.

Hastings, who is 33, has also captained the Lions, Cambridge University and London Scottish. He will continue to play for his club, Watsonians, and as a sports marketing executive with Carnegie International will continue to sell debentures at Murrayfield for the Scottish Rugby Union.

"It's always been my feeling that I would like to finish when it suited me," he said. "I just feel that having built myself up so much for this year that it would be a suitable time to finish. It's nice to end all the speculation and the never-ending questions at press conferences. At last I have got it out of the way."

Hastings, who was honoured at a civic reception here, was described by Douglas Morgan , the coach, as a "rock" and by the former Scotland coach, Ian McGeechan, as "a man of steel".

After going nine games without a win, including a 34-10 hammering by South Africa at Murrayfield, Scotland defeated Ireland, France and Wales in the Five Nations. "We have come a long way since January," Hastings said. "If we were to play South Africa now, the result would be dramatically different. I'm not suggesting we'd win but they would not steamroller us."

Duncan Paterson, the manager, believes Scotland can reach the last four in the World Cup. Romania, despite restricting France to a 24-15 victory in Bucharest two weeks ago, conceded 50 points against England at Twickenham and looked in total disarray. If Scotland are to progress in the World Cup they will surely have to steamroller Romania.

Nobody expects the Romanians to last long in South Africa. They are in the so-called "Group of Death" in the World Cup with the Springboks, the holders Australia and Canada.

The Romanians are being put up at the Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh by the SRU. When they last stayed there six years ago, the lock forward Christian Radacanu defected. He was smuggled out of the hotel and thereafter remained in Scotland to play for Boroughmuir. He is currently playing for Bradford RFC in Yorkshire.

Tony Stanger scored three tries against Romania in 1989 and today he wins his 37th cap, his first at centre. In the absence of the injured Gregor Townsend, Stanger forms a new centre partnership with Graham Shiel. Twelve months ago Stanger informed the selectors that he no longer wanted to be considered on the wing and since then he has played alongside Shiel and the stand-off Craig Chalmers for the South.

The only other change from the team beaten by England in the Grand Slam decider is the inclusion of Kevin McKenzie at hooker. For Hastings' Murrayfield swan-song, schoolchildren will be allowed in free but even so the attendance is not expected to exceed 30,000.

SCOTLAND: A G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); C A Joiner (Melrose), A G Stanger (Hawick), A G Shiel (Melrose), K M Logan (Stirling County); C M Chalmers (Melrose), B W Redpath (Melrose); D I W Hilton (Bath), K D McKenzie (Stirling County), P H Wright (Boroughmuir), G W Weir (Melrose), S J Campbell (Dundee HSFP), R I Wainwright (West Hartlepool), E W Peters (Bath), I R Morrison (London Scottish). Replacements: I C Glasgow (Heriot's FP), S Hastings (Watsonians), D W Patterson (West Hartlepool), J F Richardson (Edinburgh Academicals), J J Manson (Dundee HSFP), K S Milne (Heriot's FP).

ROMANIA: V Brici; R Cioca, N Racean, R Gontineac, G Solomie; N Nichitean, D Neaga; S Ciorascu, V Tufa, G Leonte, L Costea, C Cojocariu, T Orojan, T Brinza (capt), A Gealapu. Replacements: N Dragos, N Ionel, B Cristian, D Catalin, F Mugurel, I Ilie.

Referee: N Lasaga (France).

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