First, Last & Best: Scott Hastings

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Ian Williams, Scott Hastings

Few players are as well-versed in the highs and lows of touring with the British & Irish Lions as Scott Hastings, who donned the famous red jersey on the 1989 and 1993 Tours.

Considered by many to be one of the greatest players in Scottish rugby history, the powerful centre represented his country 65 times across an illustrious 11-year international career.

Born in Edinburgh, Hastings showcased his prowess on the world stage after coming through the ranks at Watsonians, where he spent 20 years and racked up more than 200 appearances.

But it was with the Lions where he enjoyed some of his most memorable moments, most notably playing in the second and third Tests in the 1989 series as the tourists defeated Australia 2-1.

As had been the case with both Watsonians and Scotland, Hastings played alongside older brother Gavin on the 1989 Lions Tour before the pair were selected once again four years later.

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The 1993 Tour was a different story for Scott, however, whose trip to New Zealand was cut short after he suffered a shattered cheekbone which ruled him out of the Test series.

And in the first of our new First, Last & Best series, Hastings reflects on his rollercoaster journey with the Lions as he picks out some of the key moments from his two Tours.

FIRST: 8 JULY 1989 – AUSTRALIA 12-19 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS, BRISBANE

“In 1989 I played some good rugby on that Tour and I was hoping to be involved in the first Test but I had a slight hamstring twinge and I didn’t want to risk it, I knew I just needed a few days of rest.

“The Tour had been very successful up to that first Test, we’d won every game, we were full of confidence and Australia came into that first Test and absolutely hammered us.

“What then happened was the Lions had a midweek game before the second Test up in Ballymore, Brisbane, and we played against Australia Capital Territory and were down at half time.

“We came from behind and I scored a couple of tries in that game and the Test team who hadn’t been playing applauded us off the pitch – that moment you realise the strength and the bond of the whole squad because suddenly the Tour was back on.

Scott Hastings after second Test 1989

“When I was selected to come in as part of those five or six changes, I was partnering Jeremy Guscott in a new midfield alongside Rob Andrew and the pressure was on.

“The Lions needed a reaction and that second Test has gone down in Lions folklore as the Battle of Ballymore and there was an incredible start to the game.

“Robert Jones had stood on Nick Farr-Jones’ boot and pierced him with a rather sharp stud and it all kicked off. I looked around to Jeremy Guscott and said ‘this could be an entertaining afternoon’.”

The Battle of Ballymore

“It was quite an open game and, in those days, because defences were not as organised as we currently see in the modern game, it was end-to-end stuff with a dry ball.

“I’m left-handed and I remember we got a break out, I think I was involved, Rory Underwood was involved and I realised there was a huge gap on the outside.

“Being a left-handed player, I thought I could fire this pass out but it was more like a big loop that bounced and my brother Gavin [Hastings] went over and scored.

“As he ran back he said, ‘That was fantastic, what’s the score?’ and he hadn’t realised he’d put the Lions into the lead and obviously he converted, but I think it was the way we reacted next.

Classic Match: 1989 Lions battle back

“Jeremy [Guscott] then scored an absolutely marvellous try and I was alongside him – if I’d been a bit more switched on I could have nipped in ahead of him – but as it was when he went over it was just that sheer joy and celebration.

“When you look around the dressing room and see 15 fantastic players, brilliant rugby players all very committed wearing that Lions badge and that red jersey, it’s something totally unique.

Battle of Ballymore

“It’s never going to happen again in your life and what I love about the ’89 Tour is while there was the odd photograph, there were no cameras, no videos, no fly-on-the-wall documentaries.

“To go out onto Ballymore and square the Test series in a really hard-fought game was tremendous and it was Finlay Calder who gave us that leadership, gave us that desire and we delivered that day.”

LAST: 5 JUNE 1993 – OTAGO 37-24 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS, DUNEDIN

“Everyone looks at the Lions Tours and the one of real significance, history and fantastic culture is undoubtedly a Lions Tour to New Zealand so 1993 was very special.

“It was a very competitive Six Nations, myself, Jeremy Guscott, Scott Gibbs were all in the frame along with Will Carling as Lions centres and we always knew Jeremy was the Test centre.

“So I suppose Scott Gibbs, myself and Will Carling were kind of chasing that second position and I was having a reasonable Tour – my brother Gavin was actually captain that Tour.

“Looking back, it was the only time two brothers had been on two consecutive Lions Tours so it was really special for us and I played a couple of games in the Saturday team.

“The week before the first Test I was on the bench when we were playing Otago in Carisbrook, the House of Pain, and I came off the bench to replace Will Carling.

The Lions team photo 1993

“I thought, ‘Right, I have a real chance here to cement my place at centre’, and the Lions were under pressure as Otago were coming thick and fast at the Lions.

“I went in for a tackle during the game on Josh Kronfeld on a breakout and absolutely mis-timed my tackle and took his knee full force on my face… I knew I’d done something bad.

“I couldn’t even close my mouth so I knew my Tour was over and I was gutted, it was devastating. I had to have an operation and I was in the hospital for four and a half hours.

“You kind of reset your goals and having lost out on the Tour, I was going to return home, but I was there for the first Test when a last-minute kick from Grant Fox meant New Zealand went 1-0 up.

“Suddenly your Tour is over like that. You know your life dream has gone, you can’t play for the Lions against New Zealand and you’re going home on your own.

“But you look back at the high times, the good times, that’s what you always look back on. You put the low times to the side and I think that’s what makes the Lions such a special environment.”

BEST: 15 JULY 1989 – AUSTRALIA 18-19 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS, SYDNEY

“My favourite time in a British & Irish Lions jersey was undoubtedly when you’re in a changing room just before you’re going out to represent some fantastic players.

“It was always about who you represented from previous Tours and teams, some of the famous names that have worn the jersey. I often say when you’re outside looking in it’s fantastic.

“To be a spectator with 80,000 people at a World Cup final or a Lions Test series, it’s fantastic but when you’re on the inside looking out that experience is just totally unique.

“For me the third Test match against Australia in 1989, it was so tight, it was as tight as a piano wire and the Lions had to fight for every sinew that day.

“I pulled off a tackle in midfield against David Campese that I really enjoyed but when that final whistle went, [it was] that sheer joy of winning a Test series.

Feature: 1989 Lions make history with Australia comeback victory

“And what people forget is that Australia two years later with literally the same team went and won the 1991 World Cup so they were a good team – Nick Farr-Jones, Michael Lynagh and so on.

“They had some fantastic players, including Campese, real standout, world-class players and it was a tough game but we came away and the history books say the Lions won 2-1.

“To be part of that was really special. My brother was part of that as well so it was an emotional experience and also my eldest brother Graham lived in Melbourne – and still does.

“He came up and my parents were out supporting that Tour so it was an amazing family occasion that brought us all together – and back in 1989 there wasn’t the 20-30,000 Lions fans.

“There was maybe 200 or 300 so we were able to party with the fans as much as our fellow players but it was very special and some amazing scenes. It was just a fantastic experience.

“That badge and those moments before going out to represent the Lions in the Test match, nobody can ever take that away from you and those for me are the special, unique moments.”

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