NATHAN Hines was never one to shy away from a battle on the pitch and he believes a bit of healthy confrontation within the Scotland squad will reap benefits.
The 39-year-old former lock has joined Vern Cotter’s backroom staff as “resource coach” and says that his former boss at Clermont Auvergne’s “old school values” are what attracted him to his new post.
I like the way Vern operates. He’s honest. He likes a bit of confrontation as well”Nathan Hines
Hines, who won 77 caps, retired from playing at the end of the season and agreed to join Cotter’s staff. He forged a close bond with the 53-year-old New Zealander during his time in France and was part of the Clermont team that were beaten in the 2013 Heineken Cup final.
Speaking to the media for the first time since taking up his new role, Hines said the chance to get back involved with the Scotland team and work with Cotter was too good an opportunity to turn down.
“I like the way Vern operates. He’s straight up, he’s honest, he likes things pretty simple,” explained Hines, whose role will see him overseeing the lineout and mentoring young forwards. “He has old-school values – being a man, not hiding. He likes a bit of confrontation as well. I think that’s something the players respect, being told what’s happening, and not being told one thing and another thing being thought.
“He likes a bit of confrontation during the game – hard players, hard carries, forwards doing their job. And also confrontation if you’re not doing well and not hitting your targets.
“He’s not afraid to tell you. There’s no room in the game for politeness. It’s all about honesty. We’re here to do the best we can and go as far down the line, be as successful as we can. And sometimes being told that you’re overweight or not fit enough – you need to be told and make changes, otherwise you’re not going to get the best out of yourself and give your best to your team-mates.”
Hines was halfway through a two-year contract with Sale Sharks when he felt, less than a year from his 40th birthday, it was right to call time on a long and successful playing career.
“I’d signed with Sale for two years but I didn’t know if I could physically handle having another year, and I didn’t want Sale to be left with someone who couldn’t perform. So, when Vern asked if I’d be interested in joining up here, I’d already said to Sale that I was thinking about stopping anyway
“They [Sale] knew when I signed that I was getting on a bit. I snapped my bicep, and coming back from that was a really hard month. It was better for them to have someone who can play the whole season rather than to have a player struggling through. They would have been fine with me staying on, but it’s better for everyone if they’ve got someone who can finish a season and play as many games as they can. So they’re happy.”
The man from Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, who qualified for Scotland through his grandparents, had remained in regular contact with Cotter in the past year and said: “We had a good working relationship after Clermont – sometimes I’d ring him up and say ‘Oh mate, unlucky’ or ‘That was awesome, that was really good’.
“If Clermont were playing and had a disastrous game or had done really well, I’d text him. Or in the Six Nations when the first two matches were tough losses, I didn’t want the old fella to feel under pressure, so I gave him a bit of encouragement.
“When I was at Clermont, I did lineout, attack, defence, opportunities around the set piece and stuff. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I would be interested in coaching, I’d probably have said no. But in time the age gap between myself and the other players widens. I’ve got more experience, so you end up helping out, then you get more responsibility. It happened naturally.”
Hines, who also played for Gala, Edinburgh, Perpignan and Leinster, enjoyed a week working working with the Scotland squad in France and is now looking forward to moving back to the Scottish capital with wife Leann and his three children.
“We loved Edinburgh and we loved living in Scotland. We loved living in Gala, too.
“Leann and I were just 21 and we moved into a small community where everyone took us in and made us feel welcome. That was a huge benefit to us. We made a lot of good friends.
“We have great memories of living in Scotland and it wasn’t a difficult decision for us to move back.”
Coaching presents a fresh challenge, but commitment certainly won’t be lacking from a man who always strove to make the most of a stellar career he could never have dreamed of after he pitched up in Gala from Australia 17 years ago.
He said: “I wasn’t the best rugby player in the world. I wasn’t the most talented. But I committed 100 per cent to it and that’s what you’ve got to do. Some of the best rugby players don’t make good coaches. That remains to be seen with myself. Obviously, I wasn’t the best in the world.
“For gifted players, things come naturally and sometimes they can’t explain how things work.
“Part of my role is to do the rugby stuff, but there is a responsibility to help the players with their preparation. Going to try and pick them off, talk to them if they have any doubts. You don’t want to go into the tournament with doubts.
“Some of them may not realise how hard a World Cup is.”