Great Scott keen not to scotch talk of tentative revival for Tartan tribe
Former Lions centre Hastings hopes Scots can recapture their glory days
Published 19/03/2016 | 02:30
"It's shite being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low!"
- Irvine Welsh, 'Trainspotting'
"Scotland. This nation brought the world television, the steam engine, golf, whisky, penicillin, and, of course, the deep-fried Mars bar. It is great being Scottish. We're such a uniquely successful race."
- Irvine Welsh, 'Filth'
Caledonian colleagues continue to be locked amidst twin states of equal, pummelling ferocity - pride and desperation are the jostling foes. Often, they can do battle on the same afternoon or, indeed, the same minute.
They arrive in Ireland and it is only when they assess events off the field that they will find themselves in coherent concert; they will have a jolly good time in Dublin's fair city. Stomachs and heads may churn but it will have nothing to do with what they have ingested; the cause of turmoil will be the nervous anticipation of what might happen come kick-off.
It has been thus, not always, but for a generation and a bit.
Mention the words 'World' and 'Cup' as you pass a dram to a Scot today in the Palace or the Swan and you will understand; their faces will contort in horror before twisting yet again into a broad smile.
"I cannae remember a maist depressing moment in mae life but what a quality day!" Never had the desperation of defeat coupled itself so passionately with the prospect of promise.
In its compressed drama, the World Cup dénouement against Australia summed up Scottish rugby's lurching emotional state during professionalism; and, for those of us who can remember it, much of the amateur era too.
For one brief moment in those slowly ticking, final seconds, glory awaited; the only northern hemisphere side bound for the last four; until calamity struck, as usual in these circumstances, self-imposed.
They say long-playing records are coming back into fashion; Scotland's has been spinning for years now. Rudyard Kipling, not Robbie Burns, is the national poet; for do not his twin impostors sum up Scottish rugby more than anything penned by the great bard?
It was no surprise for us to hear they employed a team dentist during the World Cup; when you're a Scot, there is always fear lurking around the next bend.
Today, they whisper, could be a third successive win on Irish soil; their best Championship run in a decade, a chance to close the rankings gap on Ireland (ninth to eighth), leap into a third-placed Championship finish - Ireland would be fourth - and generally feel pretty good about themselves.
Scott Hastings is qualified to urge cautious optimism; he recently had a reunion with the last Scottish side to win a Grand Slam (1990) and it would take a lot to convince even this enthusiastic son of Edinburgh that the same group will not be meeting again for the same reasons 25 years hence.
"They're not quite back yet!" he says. "It's just been two wins. Undoubtedly, the performance against France last weekend was a big boost to confidence.
"It harked back to what Scotland stood for many years, hard, gritty, full of passion, determination with focus to the play. Scotland being Scottish."
Hastings and his brother Gavin marshalled Scotland in the days when the names called by Bill McLaren's Borders' burr reeked of Caledonian spirit. Doddie Weir. Kenny Milne. John Jeffrey.
Finlay Calder may have sounded like a deathly boring accountant but he was the greatest warrior of them all. David Sole's parade of heroes in 1990 heralded a Grand Slam and a brilliant book by Tom English.
Hastings debuted against Ireland in 1986, won that game and then another 11 - politely losing one.
"We should have won a Slam in '95 as well but England got revenge on us in Twickenham."
Hasting had gone by 1999, when Scotland closed the millennium with another title, their 14th in all (they shade Ireland by one).
"Some of them were great games, 1989 was a remarkable ding dong battle, 37-21, some cracking tries, a real games of footie," recalls Hastings, a British Lion with his brother on the famous 1997 tour.
"We kept on changing our game-plan, we always had something new and innovative to throw at them."
The 6-6 draw in a '94 Dublin hurricane was enjoyed only by those schoolboys - ahem! - who had flogged their five punt tickets for twice the price to the eager tourists.
Ireland celebrated their only point of a barren decade against their Celtic brethren; Hastings celebrated with a pint delivered by his brother.
At one stage, Gavin had mistaken one of the several thousand aerial punts on the day and his little brother had to rescue the situation. "I owe you a pint, kid."
It was duly delivered in the departures lounge the following morning; it may not have been the first or last of the weekend.
Scott was, and still is, the more impish of the four Hastings boys and the competitive streak drove them to become the first brothers to appear on a Lions tour in nearly a century, the last great amateur tour of 1997.
One tale typified the brothers' nature; noticing that Gavin was firing up a fierce friendship with Welshman Ieuan Evans, Donal Lenihan commented, "He's like the brother Gavin never had."
"What about me?" wondered Scott. "You're the brother he did have," Lenihan lamented drily…
"I was always trying things, I was a bit of a nutter on the field. I was always psyched up, my top two inches was the utter passion and adrenaline of it. And I was let go after the match as well, that was the beauty of it in the amateur era.
"We'd a strong touring culture, at our 1990 reunion last year, it was like we'd never parted. Nobody was ever allowed to get above themselves, it was a real fellowship.
"Senior players guided you through the process when you came in, then you pass that on and I feel that today's Scottish professionals have let themselves down but it is difficult to compare eras."
Scott bade farewell in 1997 after 65 caps; the 1999 title was their farewell to the old Five Nations and, when the Six Nations began, they stoically bid farewell to that too.
Italy beat them first up and in 16 years of Kilted Kiwis and Australian comedian coaches, they have claimed four wooden spoons.
In 117 years before, they had never claimed rugby's most unwanted possession. Ireland flipped the record, too; only losing just one match to them in the noughties.
"Professionalism brought pain. Across the 16 years, performances haven't been there. Scotland had lot a lot of credibility on the international scene. I have my record against Ireland and I bring it to Dublin every couple of years just to remind myself of what Scotland used to be. But those who live in the past die in the past. These current players have tenure now of the Scottish jersey. They need to match Ireland's recent consistency."
The Hastings were in Donnybrook last night to see Gavin's son, Adam, play for the U-20s. The dynasty renews as, they hope, a nation does too. Optimism and pessimism may always joust but one historic tradition will endure this evening.
"If Scotland play to form, with no mistakes, they win. Then, regardless, we shall all retire to the pub afterwards and cheer for France!"