British and Irish Lions 2017: Gavin Hastings recalls 1993 New Zealand tour

Gavin Hastings, carrying a Lions mascot, and flanked by Rob Andrew (left) and Dean Richards (right), walks off the pitch after the Lions' third Test defeat against New Zealand in 1993
Hastings' 1993 Lions suffered a 2-1 series defeat by the All Blacks after losing the final Test

If he could, he'd wind the clock back to his youth and do it all again in New Zealand, the highs and lows of a Lions tour, the intensity, the brutality, the ecstasy and the agony.

When Gavin Hastings says that the 2017 Lions are about to experience the "hardest weeks of rugby they will ever have faced in their lives, but at the same time, the most incredible weeks", he speaks from experience, some of it bitter, some of it glorious, all of it unforgettable.

"These guys have the opportunity to make history," he says. "Let's get it straight, this is not a question of life or death, they're not going away with Bear Grylls on an island to fend for themselves. They're going to be worshipped when they arrive, probably not by New Zealand fans, but by the 25,000 Lions fans that are going to be there.

"If you asked every person who ever played for the Lions in the past would they like to be young again and be on that plane, then most of us would say, 'Yeah, we'll do it'. Captaining the side in 1993 was the greatest honour I could have achieved."

That was quite a tour, the last of the amateur era - 13 matches, a dramatic and controversial Test series, a calamitous midweek side and so many memories that are still vivid in Hastings' mind's eye.

The first of them was the strange way he was offered the captaincy.

'A very good time in my life'

Ian McGeechan was the Lions coach in 1993 and Geoff Cooke, of England, was the manager. There were three men touted for the leadership of the team - Will Carling, who had captained the English to two Grand Slams, Ieuan Evans, the brilliant Welsh wing, and Hastings, who had just assumed the captaincy of Scotland that season.

"I was sitting at home one Sunday evening when Geech rang and said that he'd been asked to call me to find out what I would say if I was offered the captaincy. I said, 'Geech, you know the answer to that question, I don't know why you're phoning to ask me'. And I kinda put the phone down.

"Then he phoned me again a couple of hours later and he asked me the very same question and I said, 'Geech, I've given you the answer'. He phoned me back half an hour later and said, 'Congratulations, you're the captain of the Lions'.

"I don't know if he, and Geoff, were just doing their homework and wanting to find out if I was nervous in any way, but I wasn't. It was a very good time in my life."

Gavin Hastings scores a try for the Lions against the NZ Maori on their 1993 tour
Hastings scored a try for the Lions in their comeback win against the NZ Maori

Promising start painfully punctuated

The Lions won their first four matches in New Zealand, beating North Auckland 30-17, North Harbour 29-13, coming from 20-0 behind to beat the Maori 24-20 before taking care of Canterbury 28-10.

Everything was going well, almost too well. When the Lions arrived in Dunedin to play Otago, the first crisis of the summer was about to hit them.

In scoring five tries and 37 points, Otago gave the tourists a record kicking. Jamie Joseph and a young Josh Kronfeld ran amok. Stuart Forster, their brilliant scrum-half, lorded it over the game and then trash-talked in the aftermath. "We stuffed it right up them," said Forster. As much as Hastings would liked to have protested, he couldn't.

Twenty-four years later, he says his boys were "mullered" that day.

The pain of the loss was added to by the injury sustained by his brother, Scott. He fractured his cheekbone and was invalided out of the tour.

"We had a night out after the Otago game," says Hastings. "I wasn't feeling too good, but I got up early the next morning and went to see our doctor, James Robson, to ask how Scott was doing and he said he wasn't doing great.

Scott Hastings shows off his fractured cheekbone from a Dunedin hospital
Gavin's brother Scott fractured his cheekbone against Otago and spent time in a Dunedin hospital

"He said, 'I'm going in to see him (in hospital) if you'd like to come'. I said 'OK' and when I saw his face I was just about ill all over the floor of the room he was in and it was as much to do with the way he looked as the amount of drink I'd had the night before. He was like the elephant man."

Referee still rankles

A week later, the Lions played the first Test at Lancaster Park, Christchurch. In the opening minutes, New Zealand were awarded a try even though Frank Bunce, their centre, never grounded the ball. Brian Kinsey, the referee from Australia, said the try was good.

"Kinsey - is that who he was? I've tried to erase his name," says Hastings.

Still, with only seconds left to play the Lions were 18-17 ahead. It was at that point that Kinsey made another intervention. He gave the All Blacks a penalty at the breakdown, an opportunity that Grant Fox took with a long-range kick. All these years later, it's still hard to see what Kinsey saw that day.

"I've never really watched it again, but my abiding memory is the look on (Lions scrum-half) Dewi Morris' face when the penalty was awarded," Hastings recalls. "It was a look of utter disbelief. We should have won that game."

A split soon developed in the squad between the Test players and the dirt-trackers, some of whom were out of their depth and then started to go off the rails. There were losses to Auckland and Hawke's Bay.

The British & Irish Lions celebrate victory over New Zealand in the second Test in 1993
Hastings and his Lions team-mates celebrate victory in the second Test

After the Lions levelled the series with an outstanding 20-7 victory in Wellington, the midweek boys folded against Waikato in the penultimate game of the tour. Peter Winterbottom, the Test flanker, said he was disgusted watching it. He felt they weren't trying.

A lot of fingers were pointed at the Scottish forwards. Peter Wright, Kenny Milne, Paul Burnell, Andy Reed and Damian Cronin made up the Lions front five against a rampant Waikato who had, at hooker, a 29-year-old by the name of Warren Gatland.

'You had to have the right mentality'

"It's true that the midweek team wasn't strong enough and that one or two of the players went off piste," says Hastings. "Well, maybe three or four. Perhaps half a dozen. Who knows. The game was still amateur. That's just the way it was.

"In New Zealand, you had to have the right mentality. I had it and lots of others had it, but not everybody had it.

"Speak to a guy like Damian Cronin and he probably has a touch of regret that he didn't perform to the best of his ability and maybe took it as a bit of a jolly.

"It's a tough place to go. You're in Rugby Park in Invercargill and the Southland boys are kicking lumps out of you, but you've got to face up to it. There's no hiding place. There never has been and never will be. I remember a game against North Harbour and those guys are tough hombres and they're after you and you have to meet them face to face.

"We were 10-0 ahead in the third Test , but we didn't see the ball after that. We lost 30-13. Ah, it was a series we should have won. We were very unlucky in the first Test. There's a lot of regret there.

"The margins between victory and defeat are so small. Those incidents in the first Test - people don't remember them. They remember 1997 and 2013. They don't remember 1993."

Gavin Hastings shakes hands with New Zealand's John Timu after the Lions' third Test defeat in New Zealand in 1993
Hastings shakes hands with New Zealand's John Timu after the Lions' third Test defeat

Gatland driven to deliver success

Some people do. The Kiwis, for a start. The Lions may have lost but they haven't been forgotten. Hastings made many friendships on that tour, some with All Blacks that are strong to this day.

He remembers Gatland in that Waikato match. The Lions coach scored a try in the rout, getting on the end of a pass on the left wing and strolling over unopposed like he was playing in a practice match, which was largely what it had become.

"Warren was a guy who looked 20 years older than anyone else," says Hastings. "He sat on the bench for New Zealand for years as understudy to Sean Fitzpatrick, but he never got an All Black cap.

"If there's one New Zealander who can harness the frustration of missing out an All Black Test jersey, one New Zealander who will really, really want the Lions to win, it will be Warren Gatland. I said that to him and he had a smile on his face.

"He's got a strong squad and the biggest competition for Test spots than on any previous Lions tour. We came close in 1993 but we couldn't do it. It's been 46 years since the Lions won a series in New Zealand. I hope the time has come."