NATHAN Hines yesterday lifted the lid on his reasons for quitting Edinburgh for Perpignan and claimed the loyalties of Scottish players had been pushed towards breaking point.
The lock forward pointed to a lack of trust in the Scottish Rugby Union and confusing conflict of interests in the game as the major reasons behind his decision to sign a two-year deal with the French club.
Hines, 28, admitted he knew he was risking his Scotland career by heading to France, the national coach Matt Williams having made it clear that he wants to move towards a fully Scottish-based squad. But having turned down offers from the Zurich Premiership and French clubs when he signed his last Edinburgh contract, Hines felt it was now time for a change.
Gordon Bulloch, the national team captain, and Sean Lamont are both set to quit Glasgow this summer, and Hines warned that more internationals will leave next season if the SRU does not change its approach.
"When Perpignan made me an offer last month Edinburgh couldn’t put anything on the table because the SRU hadn’t fully fixed their budget," Hines explained. "That has been a huge problem for players in the past year or so. The SRU don’t move quickly enough and so players are left in limbo, most wanting to commit themselves to staying here but having to place all their trust in the union coming through for them. Lots of guys waited right until the summer before contracts were offered last year, and many had turned down very good offers from clubs in England, France and elsewhere, but after then receiving much-reduced deals they won’t again.
"The vast majority of guys in Scotland are not highly paid and could earn quite a bit more elsewhere. Money isn’t everything to boys here, but there also has to come a time when you have to look after yourself and your families. Our loyalty is being stretched too far now and while I do feel guilty about leaving the guys at Edinburgh, and the people in Scotland, who’ve been fantastic to me, I couldn’t turn down this chance.
"I have spoken to Matt about the move, but I had made my decision by then and he knew that. He said it was a good move for me and we haven’t discussed international availability. I’m obviously weighing things up at the moment. You can’t control what happens in the future - we’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it."
The lock still harbours hopes of being on the Lions tour of New Zealand this summer and said he felt honoured to have won 31 Scotland caps, given his unlikely introduction to the Scottish game.
Hines, a former rugby league player from Wagga Wagga in Australia, turned up in Galashiels for an initial six-month visit in 1998. After winning league and cup titles with Gala, he made his Test debut in New Zealand but two serious injuries claimed nearly 18 months of his career. He also suffered the ignominy of becoming the first Scotland player to be sent off in a Test match when he was dismissed against the US in 2002. In addition he has a host of happy memories with Edinburgh and Scotland and has certainly made the most of his time here.
He admits, however, that the past two years have been less enjoyable. "Most guys just want to enjoy their rugby, work hard, improve as players and feel they’re giving as much as they can to their teams. But your responsibilities and loyalties here are stretched between the pro team and the national team so much now.
"I know the coaches are finding it hard, but so are the players and we’re the ones who have to go out there and perform every week. I feel going to Perpignan will make my life and rugby much simpler, and give me the chance to enjoy it, test myself and become better."