'Cursed but class - Hastings returns to show resilience'

Adam Hastings

United States v Scotland

Date: Friday, 12 July Time: 23:30 BST Venue: Audi Field, Washington DC

Coverage: Follow the action via live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

After two years without a cap, Adam Hastings is back. Isn’t he?

The Gloucester fly-half has been named in Scotland’s team to face the United States in Washington on Friday, but the way life has gone for him over the last few years, we will believe it when we see it.

At the height of his injury crisis, an 18-month spell which featured four operations, an invite to see a witch doctor in Barcelona, a whole load of angst and not a lot of games, Hastings started thinking he might be cursed.

Shoulder, ankle, knee. They all went pop, one after the other. If there is a slippy floor in Scotland’s team hotel between now and game-time, bank on Hastings to find it. A black cat, some spilt salt, a broken mirror, a single magpie staring in his bedroom window.

The last time we saw him playing for Scotland he got marmalised by a 19 stone Fijian lock - Ratu Rotuisolia, the hitman of Labasa - to such an extent that his knee got smashed and his head suffered whiplash and concussion.

That moment set off a chain of events he described as "hellish."

'Fit Hastings the best back-up to Russell'

He spoke about all of this on the BBC’s Scotland Rugby Podcast back in January, how he thought some other-worldly jinx had befallen him over the previous 18 months and how he felt, in that moment, he had finally turned the corner and was ready to roll again.

The Six Nations was coming and he could not wait.

Three weeks later, he scored one try, landed two penalties and booted three conversions in a Champions Cup victory over Castres. He also did his knee again.

That cost him three months. He was making plans to see the shaman of Barcelona this summer, only his selection for this tour materialised in the meantime and now there he is back in the starting line-up.

Counting no chickens and making no promises. Hard-bitten. He might be the first fly-half in history to play an entire Test match with his fingers crossed.

"Adam has missed out on some opportunities that he probably would have got because he was a key player for us and was growing as a 10," said Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend from Washington on Wednesday.

"To miss a chance to be involved in the World Cup and to have a couple of injuries this year, it’s great to see him back training. He brings a real energy on and off the field."

Townsend didn’t go overboard with the eulogies, possibly because he didn’t want to create any hostages to fortune prior to kick-off. He wants his man back in the fold because he is not blessed in that area of the pitch.

There is Finn Russell, rested for this tour, but Scotland need depth and apart from Ben Healy there is nobody else supplying it.

Tom Jordan, the doughty Glasgow 10, qualifies on residency in the autumn and his presence will be welcome, but a fit and firing Hastings is Scotland’s best option as back-up to the sorcerer of Stirling.

'A class act with in-built resilience'

He is not the same type of player - who is? - but Hastings at his best is a class act with an in-built resilience. We could see that early in his story.

His first steps in international rugby were on a similar tour of the Americas, like the one he is on now.

He made a smooth debut off the bench against Canada in the summer of 2018 and followed it up with a stinker against the US a week later. That was his first start.

It was put to Townsend in the days leading up to the third Test of that summer, away to Argentina, that it would be foolhardy to start a jumpy Hastings in the toughest Test - but Townsend knew better.

Scotland scored three tries in the first 13 minutes and Hastings was at the heart of everything. Confident as you like, he bossed it.

Against the Pumas of Agustin Creevy, Matias Alemanno, Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer and Tomas Lavanini, Scotland won 44-15. Nobody who was there will forget the way Hastings bounced back from adversity in the space of a week.

When Russell and Townsend were having their difficulties it was Hastings who stepped into the breach in the spring of 2020 and calmed everything down at 10.

His performances in that Six Nations were largely exceptional, so much so that it might have helped save Townsend’s job. It seems like a million years ago, but people ought not to forget it.

Amid the bedlam of the Russell-Townsend affair, there were predictions of doomsday for Scotland. The team, it was said, could not function without Russell, not an unreasonable assertion given the brilliance of the man.

Hastings ignored all of that, or he said he did. He was cool. He was composed. Scotland lost by seven in Dublin on opening day and by six to England in round two. Then they won three in a row.

His team-mates, in huge numbers, have always given Hastings massive credit for the way he handled himself in that period.

They will have been impressed at the way he kept himself together in the down times, too. Pretty much every rugby player knows about the loneliness of rehab and the mental strength it takes to battle through and make it back on to the big stage.

Not as many know what it is like to spend as long fighting that battle as Hastings has. He hoped in January that the curse was behind him, but it wasn’t. He will be hoping again that Friday in America is the new beginning he has been waiting for.

No shaman, thanks. Just a fair shot at getting going again is all he needs right now.