MUCH of the build-up to Scotland’s Six Nation’s campaign was dominated by the Finn Russell saga, which saw the Racing 92 man leave the squad after breaching team protocol.
In light of the headlines around the fly-half and his omission from the squad, there were few players who had more pressure upon their shoulders than Russell’s replacement, Adam Hastings.
But the 23-year-old has coped admirably with the situation, performing impressively both in Dublin a week ago and against England at Murrayfield, despite Scotland falling to defeat both times.
And head coach Gregor Townsend admits he has been hugely impressed with the Glasgow Warriors man and how he has handled himself in hugely pressurised circumstances.
“I thought (Adam) was excellent,” said Townsend of Hastings’ performance against England.
“(On Saturday), especially in the second half, realising when to kick, what type of kick, he was very good. Of all the errors we made today you would think the nine and ten would have made a dozen but I can only count two or three.”
The errors to which Townsend refers were not in short supply, caused primarily by the horrific weather conditions which made playing creative rugby almost impossible.
From the outset, it was clear England were going to turn it into a kicking game, although the wind played havoc with their accuracy.
Both teams had chances but ultimately, England took more of theirs than the hosts and that is why the visitors ran out 13-6 winners, snatching the Calcutta Cup back from Townsend’s men.
Owen Farrell, who is normally such a reliable penalty-taker for Eddie Jones’ men, was considerably less consistent than usual, although he did score the only points of the first half to give England a 3-0 lead at half-time.
Scotland’s line-out was dire throughout the match and too often, it resulted in them losing valuable momentum and England were dominant at the breakdown which meant that despite the home side having the bulk of possession, they threatened the visitors far less than they would have liked.
The second half was more promising for the Scots, despite the weather worsening, and Hastings levelled the score with a penalty of his own.
However, the real talking point of the game was, unfortunately for Stuart Hogg, another howler by the captain.
This one was somewhat less calamitous than his mistake in Dublin which saw him drop the ball as he reached across the try-line, but ultimately, it proved just as costly.
England’s George Ford chipped towards Scotland’s goal-line and Hogg chased, but made a real hash of grounding the ball only for Farrell to steal it and touch down himself.
It appeared that England had scored the first try of the match but after being referred to the TMO, it was adjudged the Scotland full-back had done enough to have grounded the ball.
England were then awarded a five-metre scrum and although it took a few passages of play, substitute prop Ellis Genge forced his way over the line to give England an 8-3 lead. Farrell converted before adding a penalty a few minutes later and that was the match over.
Hastings scored a penalty two minutes from time to ensure Scotland picked up a losing bonus point for the second week in a row but in the end, it was the same old story of too many mistakes, too many chances missed.
Townsend may have been frustrated at the result, but he admitted he was pleased with a number of aspects of the game and how his players reacted to such testing conditions.
“How you take your chances should apply in the dry or the wet. We did not do well enough to do that. The first time (England) are in our 22 in the second half, they get a scrum 5 and scored pretty quickly. We need to make sure we are stronger around that area to make it hard for them to score,” he said.
“It was a different form of sport that you have to adapt to and I’m really pleased how we adapted to it in the second half.”
“I had concerns it was going to be a struggle for us in the second half because the wind was against us. To spend a lot of time in the 22 to get three points and potentially get another shot at goal was a credit to the work the players put in.”
Townsend and his men now have two weeks to regroup and prepare for their visit to Rome in what is a must-win game.
The players will return to their clubs this week and then, Townsend says, he will assess things and begin the preparations for Rome in earnest.
“We have two weeks in the build-up and most of our players will be playing club rugby,” the head coach said.
“We can manage the players who play in Scotland but others, like Stuart Hogg, will potentially be playing for their clubs. So we can see where we are after that.”