JOHNNIE Beattie made the move and is reaping the benefits and John Barclay appears set to follow suit. So it is little wonder that Scotland lock Jim Hamilton is eagerly looking forward to a new career in French rugby.
The powerful second row is no stranger to tough moves, having gone from Leicester to Edinburgh and then left Scotland for Gloucester despite having been being a regular at both Welford Road and Murrayfield.
He took over as the Cherry-and-Whites’ captain and has become a firm favourite of the Shed regulars at Kingsholm but has a driving ambition to win silverware. That, he says, rather than the lure of French lucre is what appealed most about the offer to join Montpellier this summer.
Hamilton does not deny that the money is attractive, especially for a lad who grew up on the rough side of a Midlands housing estate but, if the 30-year-old can hold down a place in the pack alongside Beattie, Scotland will also benefit.
“I am excited about the move,” Hamilton said. “Montpellier are a good Top 14 team and are competitive in the Heineken Cup, and I’m happy that I’ve made the right decision. I’ve had interest from Stade Francais for a few years, and Racing Metro as well, and the money offered was amazing, but I didn’t want to move just for money.
“Being captain at Gloucester has been great for me and I feel I’ve developed as a player so I wasn’t looking to leave for the sake of it. Ultimately, the opportunity to play in France was one I couldn’t turn down forever, but it had to be the right club.
“There’s lots of talk about money but I want to win stuff and become a better player. So I waited until I found a team that was very competitive and which I believe can win championships, in France and Europe.
“Scotland is in my heart and is the best thing I do. I want to play a part in helping us win things as well and I believe we are developing a squad that can genuinely win more games.
“Montpellier are a club I’ve enjoyed watching for a few years so I’m happy that I can help them and that they can help me achieve my ambitions.”
Hamilton has been a popular figure among his peers ever since he first joined the Scotland camp in 2006. He has been one of the team leaders for the past seven years but has also had times of poor form.
At Leicester, he was asked to focus on scrummaging and mauling to the detriment of the rest of his game, while Scotland wanted him to get fitter, run more and contribute more about the field, and the balance was difficult. Hamilton also struggled to fit into Edinburgh’s style and believes his Test performances suffered as he tried to do what was expected of him at different teams.
That changed with Scotland hiring a similarly straight-talking forwards coach in Dean Ryan who insisted that Hamilton should focus on his strengths.
“I’ve gone back to doing what I do best,” he said. “That’s what the coaches asked of me, although I’m always trying to develop my game. I know I’m not the most athletic lock and probably am never going to be, so I’m nailing down what I’m good at and looking to improve. That’s why I think I’ve been better in this championship.
“That penalty [he handed Wales an easy three points by striding offside at a ruck] is what gets remembered, which is frustrating when you put in so much good work, but that’s my fault. If I can take things like that out and improve other aspects then I’ll be happier.
“We’ve all got things we can improve on but, whereas some guys at 30 have reached their best, I feel that I’ve still got a lot more to come, and this Scotland squad has too. If you look at the table, we have taken massive strides to the last two years, but I’ve been in the squad for a while now and if we think that two wins and that level of progress is good enough, then we won’t improve further.
“The game against France was there for the taking and, if it wasn’t for them having a couple of world-class players who took advantage of some missed tackles, it could have been a much better finish to the championship. But, with the young nucleus we’ve got, we have the ability to go up.
“I’ve been so frustrated in the last few years because we’ve been that ‘nearly team’. I don’t want to get carried away after we’ve finished the tournament with a defeat, but my hope is that, after winning two matches and finishing third, then the public and media might see us in a better light.
“But we can’t rest on this. We’ve got a big tour coming in the summer and we have to look to that as our next springboard to take what we’ve learned from this championship and push on to more wins and consistency.”
Hamilton has returned to a Gloucester side pushing to get into the Premiership play-offs but his ability to go toe-to-toe in the tight exchanges of Test matches has also put him among the locks touted for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia. Richie Gray was the one Scot many had inked in for the Lions but he faces a race against time to prove himself after suffering a torn hamstring against Wales.
England duo Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling were the most consistent pairing in the Six Nations and Welshmen Alun-Wyn Jones and Ian Evans as well as Ireland’s Donnacha Ryan are in the frame but, with ex-Lion Paul O’Connell still to return from injury there may yet be a debate on the second row spots.
“I’d fancy that, of course I would,” added Hamilton. “It’s a dream and this would be my only shot at getting it but it depends on what they want. People talk about the hard grounds out there but it’s their winter when we tour and we saw the weather Scotland had when we beat Australia last summer.
“If I get picked it will be the best thing that has happened to me since I was first picked for Scotland. If I don’t, we have a big tour to look forward to with Scotland. Either way, I want to see me and Scotland use this championship as a stepping stone to better things.”