'My first few games at Bath, I didn't really know how to play rugby'
Over five years ago, in his early days at the storied old Recreation Ground, a teenage Adam Hastings felt like a little boy in a world of giants.
The most callow of pivots, his task was to whip Bath’s pack of gristly international bruisers around the paddock. Fear gnawed at him.
Was he good enough? Did he have the brains to decipher a detailed playbook, the minerals to call the right move and the skill to execute it? Could he ever earn the respect of these mammoths?
From a big fish in the calm waters of English schools rugby, Hastings was now a tadpole tossed into a vast ocean of sharks.
“My first few games at Bath, I didn’t really know how to play rugby,” he says. “I knew how to play what was in front of me, which I’ve always been fairly good at, but I was almost just running shape for the sake of it, not really knowing why I’m doing certain things.
“It’s tough going from school, playing once or twice a week, 30-40 games in a season, to barely playing. It’s tough to take because you almost think you should be playing even though you shouldn’t, because you’re nowhere near as good as you think you are at that age.
“At school you’d have maybe three of four moves off scrum and line-out. Phase play, you’d have two calls, whether it was off nine or 10. You go from that to a full playbook and you’ve got to be the one calling it and remembering everything and knowing where other people should be as well. That’s daunting.
“I’ve definitely had moments as a young bloke, especially in my first couple of seasons at Bath, where I’ve felt like I’m not good enough to be a professional. You always back yourself but I’ve had those moments in games where I feel so out of my depth.”
This vulnerable testimony jars with the prevailing depiction of Hastings, a supremely talented young man who seems to revel in his role as Glasgow’s play-maker-in chief. The sculpted thicket of black hair, the complexion that makes Gavin Henson look a touch pasty and the rows of blindingly white teeth.
This sleek veneer belies old inner doubts. There was a time where Hastings was unsure if he would ever belong in the elite game, frightened to place faith in his ability and to back his instincts.
“I used to be pretty awful at passing – I’m a lot better now. I was pretty inconsistent as a goal-kicker, but as of last season, I’m much more consistent,” he says.
“When my passing wasn’t as good or my kicking out of hand wasn’t as good, I’d be scared to do a crosskick in our own half or throw a big long pass off a certain move for fear of making a mistake.
“It’s strange saying it now because I feel like I’ve always backed myself, there was definitely a bit of fear there to make mistakes. I do still make a lot of mistakes in games but it’s just about moving on from that.
“Now I’d say I’m a lot more confident but you still get times before games where you almost don’t want to go out there. Or you’re sitting on the bench going, ‘Oh god, I don’t know if I want to go on’.
But if you don’t get on, you’re gutted and annoyed. And when you do get on, it’s amazing.
“Everyone goes through that, even players at the top of their game I’m sure I have those moments. Maybe people don’t realise but that’s part of the game. The highs definitely outweigh the lows.”
The lows lately have been positively subterranean. Although he played little rugby in Japan, Scotland’s heinous World Cup struck Hastings as hard as anyone. In their two most colossal Test matches in four years, Scotland were monstered by Ireland and filleted by Japan, booting them home at the pool stage for only the second time in history.
“It’s awful,” Hastings says. “It’s one of the hardest things as a player to take. That was one of my darkest moments. You just feel like you’ve got the whole nation behind you and that’s that, eh?
“It’s easy in those moments to point the finger, shove blame at someone or try and make someone a scapegoat. Someone is always to blame. That was the biggest thing – stick together.
“When we turn over a lot of ball we kill ourselves. Our defence has also been pretty poor in periods. That’s the big thing with Scotland – you see a team that can play so well in periods and other times it just doesn’t click.
“The game plan is there. If you back a game plan and do it well, it’s usually right. We’ve got good enough players and coaches to complete that game plan. It’s just about being consistent, everyone being on the same page. There are certain combinations that maybe work better than others. The main thing for me would be that accuracy, because when we’re not, we just hand teams the ball.
“There will be boys now in that whole squad so hungry for it in the Six Nations you’ll see a completely different team.”
After the horrors of Japan and the vitriol that followed, Hastings was ravenous for minutes. The unfortunate Southern Kings felt the brunt of that lust on Friday, a 50-0 Scotstoun horsing in which six returning internationals made their first outings of the campaign.
Without their Test men, Warriors’ start to the season has been grim. Before the Kings were slain, Glasgow had one victory from their opening four matches. The early rounds of their campaign has been overshadowed by the future of their coach, Dave Rennie being roundly touted to take charge of the Wallabies and sounded out by his native New Zealand with his contract expiring in the summer.
Behind the scenes, the search for Rennie’s replacement is reportedly underway. Whether to Australia or the All Blacks or somewhere else, the overwhelming likelihood is that he will not be Glasgow’s man next season.
“Dave has spoken to us about it, addressed it because rumours are flying about,” Hastings says.
“He said, ‘Look, I’m here for the rest of the year. If something ends up happening, I’ll let you know’.
But as of now, he doesn’t know anything of the situation. There’s no negativity there and I don’t think anyone’s thinking about it.”
Rennie has been monumental for Hastings. He has said the 23-year-old can outstrip Finn Russell as Scotland’s premier fly-half, the sort of shimmering praise that makes you sit up and listen. He backed his man during Hastings’ darkest periods, the bruising loss to Edinburgh in December last year when he threw two interception passes that gave Glasgow’s bitter rivals 14 points.
“That time was pretty horrible. It was a pretty bad Christmas after that first Edinburgh game but he backed me the following week,” Hastings says.
“It gives me massive confidence when he backs me. It doesn’t make me stress less, but it’s good to feel the backing of him across the whole team.
“He’s been one of if not the most influential coach I’ve had. The way he looks at my game and helps me with what I’m good at and stuff I need to work on. After every game I’ll go through most of my clips with him and I’ll basically ask him what else I could have done or if it was good or not.
“He’s still hard on us all. He keeps me on my toes really well. He’s been awesome for me.”
‘Alleviating pressures is really important. It’s a hell of a complex job to create a winning, competitive environment’
– Former @AllBlacks Wayne Smith tells @JLyall93 about coaching and culture in Japan where @rugbyworldcup has captured hearts and mindshttps://t.co/Z4Qi0q8ZoI
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 19, 2019
The two of them arrived at Glasgow in the summer of 2017. Rennie may soon be gone, but Hastings will be here at least another season. Four years ago, he was a doubt-ridden kid at Bath. Four years from now, as the next World Cup rolls around, where would he like to be?
“Hopefully [I will have won] a couple of Pro14 titles,” he says. “Definitely a Six Nations title in there.
And hopefully more games starting for Scotland. If I’m being realistic about where I want to be, that’s it.
“I mean, before I made my Scotland debut, seven months earlier I was playing for Currie. I’ve been pretty vocal about how this game can change in such a short space of time for certain individuals. It’s not going to be easy by any means – it’s going to be very difficult – but if I keep working hard, I’m sure it could happen.”
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