20 Dec Gavin Hastings
Gavin Hastings’ glittering international career came to an end at the 1995 World Cup when Scotland were beaten by the All Blacks in the quarter-finals in Pretoria.
The Loftus Versfeld match was the last of his 68 Tests, retiring as a legend of the international game.
Though disappointed to have missed out on a chance to play England in the semi-finals, it gave Hastings a chance to explore the country that hosted the tournament.
“I was lucky enough to have stayed on with my wife after we had been beaten in those quarter-finals,” says Hastings. “I was down in Durban and Cape town – it was great.
“I really enjoyed going around the country and seeing the people. The people are mad keen about rugby, and are lovely hosts and delighted to have people from overseas.
“South Africans are just massively besotted and passionate about rugby, there is no question about it, they absolutely love the game.”
It’s for that reason that Hastings is looking forward to the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021, with the fixtures announced earlier this month.
The Boks’ impressive return in World Cups – they have won three of the seven tournaments they have attended – makes them a mouth-watering prospect for Warren Gatland’s tourists.
“Three titles in 24 years is a pretty remarkable record,” added Hastings.
“And also, the Lions are now going on their third successive tour to South Africa to play the world champions.
“That in itself is amazing and just adds to the Lions; the history and the uniqueness, the esteem in which it’s held. It can’t help but be an amazing Test series… the best British and Irish players against the world champions. It promises to be an amazing clash!
“To go to all these iconic stadiums in South Africa will be fantastic and will be a great showcase for rugby, as I think the Test series between New Zealand and the Lions was.
“It was like having three World Cup finals in a row. That’s what the Lions is for me and that’s what you want.”
Hastings, the Lions’ all-time points scorer and the full-back for the winning tour of Australia in 1989, says taking part in a Lions Test series as a British and Irish player is the ultimate achievement.
“The only thing that matches playing in a Lions Test is probably playing in a World Cup final. It’s a one-off and you somehow have to get it right on the day.
“There is a huge step up in anticipation and expectation because there’s a big prize for the winners at the end of it all.
“You have this responsibility due to the fact that there’s such history and tradition around the Lions. That’s what, for me, makes it.
“That’s the closest that we ever experience probably what it’s like to play for New Zealand or the Springboks just in terms of the absolute passion that the supporters have for their team.”
Hastings says it’s that passion from the visiting fans – that sea of red – that makes a Lions tour.
“It’s a very iconic jersey that the Lions play in,” said Hastings. “That bright red colour is a very strong colour. There’s never a clash between the great Lions strip and those of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
“All the Lions supporters wear the kit; the supporters absolutely buy into it, they really look forward to going on a tour and cheering on this one team that the players all want to play for.
“You have that as Lions because there’s no second team. Nobody has a second team that they’re supporting on a Lions tour, it’s just blind faith and blind support and it’s an absolute given that you’re supporting that team.”
Written by Keith Moore