Adam Hastings is unlikely to forget his tumultuous first month as a Gloucester player – vomiting milk after flunking the club’s notorious initiation trial, having his dear coiffured locks shaved to the scalp, crashing in the spare room of Scotland pal Chris Harris and his fiancée Ruby, whose numbers are now saved in his phone as ‘Dad’ and ‘Mum’, while hoovering up all manner of new calls, strategy and rugby gen.
Certainly, Hastings’ introduction to the Shed will be forever etched in his mental archives. It was a crisp Friday night in the West Country; round two of the Gallagher Premiership. Leicester Tigers in town with their stars and their snarl. The Kingsholm battleground illuminated by floodlight glare; the soundtrack provided by one the country’s most rugby-infatuated fan bases. A compact, frothing amphitheatre the like of which Hastings has never known.
“I was shitting my pants,” is the 25-year-old’s blunt recollection. “I don’t like sitting on the bench either, I get more nervous. It was my first experience of it, but it was amazing.
“We run along the length of the Shed to end our warm-up and they just go mental. It was incredible… goosebumps, hairs on the back of my neck standing up.
“Scotstoun is a class stadium, the fans there are awesome, but Kingsholm on a Friday night is just mental, mate. It’s like a circus. It’s unbelievable. I would absolutely hate to come here as a visiting team. It is the most hostile, horrible place to come and play if you are an away team.”
Hastings has come south from Glasgow not as a pup, but an international regular, a marquee acquisition and a play-maker Gloucester hope can grip the wand left by Danny Cipriani and start weaving his own sorcery.
Warriors were loath to let their star pivot go, and put what they reckoned a competitive contract on the table. Hastings was convinced the Premiership would drive his game to the next level.
The main difference is the professionalism – the facilities we’ve got here are probably just a step up from Glasgow, I’d argue.
“I was keen to explore other options coming out of contract as you would naturally. Glasgow were very keen to keep me, but it was the right time,” he tells RugbyPass+.
“I’d had time to take myself out the team with my shoulder injury. It would have been much more difficult and different if I was playing in that Glasgow team week in, week out, and we were flying.
“I was able to take myself out of the equation and think, I made a pros and cons list and it was a very thought-out move. The way Gloucester presented themselves, speaking to George Skivington and Alex King about the way they want to move forward, it just resonated with me. I felt I could bring stuff down here to help them, and they could make me a much better player.”
Ask Hastings what sets his new surrounds apart from those he has left, and the word ‘pressure’ keeps coming up. The Premiership is ferociously competitive – this year perhaps more so than ever – even shorn of the spectre of relegation. Hastings feels, and feasts on, its ruthlessness.
The merits of England’s top flight versus the revamped United Rugby Championship and its many iterations have been argued bitterly for years. Hastings treasured his time at Glasgow – and how could he not when it made him the player he is now? But Gloucester, he says, buzzes with an intensity that edges beyond the weekly stimuli of the old Pro14.
“The saying ‘pressure makes diamonds’, I truly believe,” Hastings says. “I’ve certainly felt more pressure in the first few games here than maybe I have playing for Glasgow. Playing with and against world-class players every week is only going to test you, and is the only way you get better.
“I’m not going to start dogging on the URC or Pro14 because there are some high-quality teams in there. Don’t get me wrong, that is a tough league. At Glasgow, we notoriously went well against some big European teams – Exeter, I can remember that 31-31 draw (in January 2020), we should have put them away. La Rochelle away, we won. Even Sarries, that 13-3 game at Scotstoun (in October 2018), we could have beaten them that day.
“The main difference is the professionalism – the facilities we’ve got here are probably just a step up from Glasgow, I’d argue. The nutrition, the learnings on and off the pitch in your sleep, your recovery, they want these boxes ticked.
“The players here, they do genuinely just love the game and it’s so obvious when you’re off the pitch, there are always little mini-meetings where we’re going over teams, watching computers.
“My first week, I noticed the difference straight away. Boys mention it that when you go into international camps, the pace picks up, but I just couldn’t believe how quick it was.
“There are so many athletes down here. The gene pool is ridiculous. You look at some of the young boys coming through and they are just freaks.”
The transition jarred a little, though not nearly as much as the sight of Hastings posing for pre-season promotional shots with a head as bald as a coot’s. This is a player who was no stranger to weekly haircuts, whose sculpted, jet-black barnet has its own Twitter parody account, and who personified the adage made famous in rugby by Gavin Henson: ‘look good, feel good, play good’.
His locks fell victim to the notorious milk challenge set for every new Gloucester signing. Eight pints of the full-fat, blue-top white stuff must be consumed in twenty minutes. Fail, and the clippers await. It is an ordeal few surmount.
“I was up for it; I wanted to do it,” Hastings laughs. “I had five-and-a-half pints and then I was gone-skis. One of the other lads spewed and I was off. You can’t hold the liquid; I don’t know how some of the other boys did it. Three or four boys completed it this year.
“It’s usually done before the media day so you’ve got your photos with you bald. It’s good fun. Charlie Sharples was waiting with the razor for anyone who didn’t complete it. I was more nervous for my debut, but the milk challenge wasn’t far off it.”
’Charris’ is like an older brother to me, and his fiancée Ruby and I get on like a house on fire. At least for the moment anyway, maybe not if I’m still kicking about in six months.
Being bald and, for a time, homeless, was a trying start at a new club. As Hastings struggled to find a pad, he hopped from hotel to hotel before shacking up with Harris. The living situation, although temporary, has brought stability and enhanced the burgeoning bromance.
“When I first came down, I did find it a little tough. His place wasn’t ready to move into because he wasn’t down here yet. I was bouncing around AirBnBs every three or four days. It was tough, settling in to a new club, new environment, but I feel a lot more settled now.
“’Charris’ is like an older brother to me, and his fiancée Ruby and I get on like a house on fire. At least for the moment anyway, maybe not if I’m still kicking about in six months. It’s been so nice living with them and having some company in the evenings.
“I’m still looking for a place, but fingers crossed I’ll be out of their hair soon. The difference in the first couple of weeks when I was bouncing around AirBnBs to living with them, it’s been lovely, and I can’t thank them enough for putting up with me.”
On Tuesday, Hastings celebrated his 25th birthday in the Harris household. If you’re wondering, an electric toothbrush was the landlord’s gift of choice. A good-natured dig, perhaps, at his tenant’s spectacular grill.
Although Hastings maintains the Oral B Pulsar (other oral hygiene brands are available) has “changed my life”, far more significant was his swaggering, man-of-the-match display three days earlier as Worcester were put to the sword at Sixways.
In constant rain, Hastings ran the show behind a bruising pack – one cross-kick try assist with his right foot, another with his left, and 16 points off the tee. Scotland gaffer Gregor Townsend and his coaching lieutenants visited Gloucester this week, and Hastings is thirsting to feature in the autumn internationals through more compelling club performances.
“We’ve shown at times we’re a flair team and can cut sides up with ball in hand,” he says. “We can score these beautiful tries. But that Worcester game hammered home we can win these arm-wrestle games, we’ve got it in the locker if it’s a shit day or if the attack isn’t working, we can go to that kick battle, get gritty and win. We can change our game.
“The ideal season for Gloucester looks like a top-four spot, reaching the knockouts and then really having a crack. If Gloucester can get that consistency with their play, marry up those two styles, you’ll see a pretty awesome team.”