Hines determined to put dark era in the past

NATHAN Hines admitted he was excited and nervous at the prospect of playing for his country again after yesterday confirming that agreement had been reached with his club Perpignan to return to the Scotland camp on Monday.

As revealed in The Scotsman this week, Perpignan's enthusiasm for tying up Hines on a longer-term deal has this month helped provide an avenue to the 31-times capped lock to re-establish his availability to the national team. Under IRB rules, no club can refuse a player the opportunity to play for his country, but Hines had told Perpignan, on signing a two-year deal last spring, that he would not be selected for Scotland under Matt Williams, the former national side coach, and so would be available for all club matches.

It was an indication of how upset the player was under Williams, but he regretted the decision when Williams was sacked and Frank Hadden installed as the new Scotland coach.

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In an exclusive interview with The Scotsman, Hines said: "It's probably hard for supporters to understand how low I felt last year and why I agreed to that, and many times in the last few months I've wondered myself, because playing for Scotland meant so much to me.

"There were other personal factors, but it was all intertwined with the frustration in my rugby. I made the decision before Matt got the chop and I accept I made my bed and had to lie in it. I know I could have broken the deal with Perpignan, but that's not me. I am someone who sticks by agreements and decisions and so I saw it through.

"But I have always kept in touch with the Scotland boys and supported and encouraged them, and I've been delighted to see them enjoying playing for Scotland again.

"Enjoyment, I think, is an underrated part of professional sport. To be able to play well you have to believe in yourself, and the people around you.

"When Matt was there, every week brought more questions about the direction we were heading, what we were doing, why we were doing it, and enjoyment disappeared.

"You want to play well and tell yourself you will every time you run out, but when things go against you, as they invariably do in a rugby match, without self-belief you won't react well to it, things might slip, your confidence goes and you don't back yourself just to play. In fact, you wonder why you're there at all.

"By the end of last season I wasn't enjoying much of anything. I was going home in bad moods from training, from games, not looking forward to it, and the stress just grew and grew."

There was added pressure for the 29-year-old and his wife Leann from stressful family concerns and it is understood that the pressures of last spring exacerbated their worries, making rugby a secondary issue in their lives and further fuelling the decision to walk away from the Test arena. They are keen to keep such concerns private, but the couple have settled into life in France very well and the picture brightened at the start of this month, which also helped persuade the pair that it was right for Hines to reconsider his international exile.

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It is somewhat ironic that his return looks likely to coincide with England arriving at Murrayfield this week, as his last appearance for Scotland, in the Calcutta Cup defeat at Twickenham last year, was the most traumatic in Hines' career.

Though he was born and bred in Australia, coming to Scotland with Leann initially merely "to travel and play a bit of rugby on the way", Hines qualified through his grandfather George Nairne from Govan, and admits he lived for the battles with England.

"That was the most unhappy day of my rugby career. I knew it was going to be my last game and I was upset. I'd been in tears after we played Wales at Murrayfield, because I knew that could be my last game at Murrayfield and it was heart-breaking. It is an amazing experienced running out at Murrayfield, but I felt Matt took it away from me and as long as he was in charge I'd never experience it again.

"At Twickenham, a lot of players were upset in the dressing room afterwards, which was why some were keen for the feelings over Matt and Willie [Anderson] to be made public in The Scotsman. We tried to go out and play a bit against England, the way we wanted to as players and the way we felt we could and should play, and because it was the last game, but the defence system we had was too complicated for us and easy for the English to open up.

"It is a bit strange, maybe, to think I might come back against England, but that game now seems light years away from where I am now. Myself and Leann have really enjoyed life in Perpignan and I love the club, and the players - they are a great bunch - and I am confident again; back to my old self I think. And anyone who knows me knows how much I like battles against England!

"The England game is traditionally the biggest for Scotland in the year, and one thing I'd love to do is win the Calcutta Cup. But if it doesn't happen next week, fine, I'll wait until my opportunity comes."

Hines plays for Perpignan against Castres this afternoon and the club are happy for their big lock to return to Scotland next week as they have a week off. It will be tougher during the last two weeks of the Six Nations Championship as the Catalans, currently fourth in the French Championship, are away to title rivals Stade Francais in the same weekend Scotland are in Ireland and Toulouse visit Perpignan the following weekend, when Scotland host Italy at Murrayfield.

The amiable big forward, who made his Test debut against New Zealand in 2000, is aware that his desire to play for Scotland will bring new pressures, but he and Leann have decided that life is for living in the here and now, and the duo are prepared for the good and the bad this decision may bring.

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He added: "I am excited and a little bit nervous. I have been playing well and am fit, but it has been a while and obviously the Calcutta Cup match is a big one for Scotland, as it is at any time, especially after a win and an unfortunate game in Cardiff. If big Scotty [Murray] had been on I'm confident the boys would have won that game, so the last thing I want is any disruption to the camp.

"I would sympathise hugely with guys like Ally Kellock, Scott MacLeod or Craig Hamilton if I was to leapfrog them. I know them personally and they are all good international players; with more exposure to Test rugby they will all mature and develop into real quality internationals. Of course you feel for them, but all I hope is that if I am involved next week we'll work together and they won't hold a grudge.

"It's up to Frank. I don't know whether he will select me for the squad straight away or not, but it's just great to think I'm available and that I have a chance of pulling on the Scotland jersey once again. I always said that I hoped to come back and play for Scotland one day. I just never knew when and if I would get another chance. Hopefully, that day is not too far away now."