Gavin Hastings expects Sexton to resume normal service

Former Scotland fullback wary of Ireland pack ahead of Six Nations clash in Dublin

Former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings in Dublin ahead of the match with Ireland on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings in Dublin ahead of the match with Ireland on Saturday. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

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He says England’s Owen Farrell is the best kicker he has seen. Wisely perhaps, he doesn’t compare Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw to Ireland’s Johnny Sexton.

Gavin Hastings knows something about conversions and penalties. He was as deft with the boot as he is a sweet talker.

“Ireland are almost unbeatable at home,” says the former Scotland captain.

That will never, never, ever, ever be taken away from me. I am the guy that missed the kick in the semi-final of the World Cup

Well, he would say that.

Hastings won a Grand Slam in 1990. Then and now he understands are different. He knows comparing eras is a mug’s game.

A kicker of his time – he had a year with the Scottish Claymores, an American Football team in the NFL Europe – he shakes his head and solemnly declares Sexton’s kicking against Wales was an aberration. He knows about bad days as he does about good days. He prefers to talk about the good.

Scotland’s Gavin Hastings after missing a vital penalty against England in the 1991 Rugby World Cup semi-final at Murrayfield. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/AllSport
Scotland’s Gavin Hastings after missing a vital penalty against England in the 1991 Rugby World Cup semi-final at Murrayfield. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/AllSport

“You know I get reminded frequently of the kick I missed in the 1991 World Cup semi-final that cost Scotland the game,” he says.

“That will never, never, ever, ever be taken away from me. I am the guy that missed the kick in the semi-final of the World Cup . . . I don’t particularly like talking about it. I prefer talking the days like when I kicked eight from eight when we beat England in 1986 and beat them 33-6.

“All you can do is compare yourself against your own era and I kicked as many points as the majority of players. I’m sure my percentage was the equivalent if you were playing nowadays. I still maintain Farrell is the best goal-kicker in international rugby bar nobody.”

Huw Jones,' says Hastings. 'He’s a throwback to the era of side stepping centres. He’s been a magnificent find for Scotland. He’s a try-scoring machine'

Sexton might feel the pain of the 56-year-old, although the Ireland outhalf is not given to bouts of self-doubt. Laidlaw has come off last weekend’s win for Clermont over La Rochelle with three penalties and a conversion.

No rest for him after a reputed €1.68 million three-year deal. But Laidlaw comes in with his kicking boots on, whereas Sexton for a short time two weeks ago had forgotten where he left his.

“Johnny won’t miss four kicks, I know he won’t miss four kicks,” says Hastings. No argument.

“Because Ireland are so now good nowadays, or if Beauden Barrett has a off day, because the team is so good you are going to win the game.

“But back in the day, if a kicker had an off day, you were unlikely to win the match . . . so listen Johnny will not moss four kicks on Saturday.”

Ireland’s outhalf Jonathan Sexton missed four kicks at goal against Wales in their last Six Nations game. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
Ireland’s outhalf Jonathan Sexton missed four kicks at goal against Wales in their last Six Nations game. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

So it’s not the kicking that worries him. It’s not the Irish defence out wide that he thinks about. It is the Ireland pack he fears.

“I watched Glasgow against Leinster in the European Cup. Leinster took Glasgow apart that day and particularly up front. That is the one Scottish worry I take into the game.”

Even worry seems too strong a word. Huw Jones, Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell, give them a sniff in space.

“Huw Jones,” says Hastings. “He’s a throwback to the era of side stepping centres. He’s been a magnificent find for Scotland. He’s a try-scoring machine. He’s done incredibly well.”

Hastings cautions Scotland to step from the glow of the victory over England but invites in the prospect of a good outcome against Ireland.

“I’ve been defending Scotland for the last 20 years. There has not been a huge amount of excitement during that time,” he says. “Leading into this weekend, there is a fair degree of excitement.”

Then he takes it all back.

“Take the Italian games out of it we’ve won 5 per cent of our away matches. (2 out of 37 in the Six Nations).”

It’s which Scotland turns up.

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