“And it all seemed to be going so well,” is a sentiment many people could identify with about the year 2020 so far and Edinburgh No 8 Nick Haining is certainly one of them.
His stunning breakthrough year, which saw him go from Super Rugby reject in his native Australia to three caps, including two starts, for Scotland in the Six Nations was curtailed by the coronavirus crisis but he has remained upbeat throughout and is now looking forward to getting things moving forward again.
The 29-year-old from Fremantle in Western Australia, who qualifies for Scotland through a Dundonian grandmother, arrived at Edinburgh via Bristol Bears after being released by Western Force. He suitably impressed national coach Gregor Townsend and started for Scotland in the Six Nations opener against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, came off the bench in the Calcutta Cup match and then started again in the win over France at BT Murrayfield.
“Things had gone really well in the international scene for myself. I was building my game week by week,” he said as he looked ahead to tomorrow night’s second match back since the shutdown against Glasgow in front of 700 fans at the national stadium.
“It was still a massive learning process for myself, my first time in international rugby, so I was learning the bits and bobs week by week. I’m just thankful to be back into games now. We’ve got a good buildup to the next internationals and hopefully I do get selected again to be in the squad.
“But we have some big [club] games coming up, games where you can really put your hand up, so that’s the focus at the moment. If those performances take care of themselves then hopefully things will go all right in the way of getting selected internationally.”
Those big club games include next Saturday’s huge Guinness Pro14 semi-final at home to Ulster, a European Challenge Cup quarter-final in Bordeaux and hopefully a few more before the international season is set to resume on 31 October with Scotland’s delayed Six Nations closer against Wales.
Townsend will be in the stands again tomorrow night as Haining, who came off the bench last Saturday for his first-ever taste of 1872 Cup action in the 30-15 win over Glasgow, will hope to start and push on. Richard Cockerill will name a team with ten changes at noon today for what is effectively a “dead rubber”. Haining said: “To be honest, I try not to think about it [Townsend watching]. There is always an added pressure on when you know the international selectors are there and watching you, scrutinising your game.
“Edinburgh is my sole focus and I also have Richard and the rest of the coaching staff watching. I’m trying to keep my place week by week in Edinburgh. If I’m focusing on that then everything else should take care of itself.
“One of the big points we have taken away this week is to continue momentum. It’s something Cockers really focused on and has said we don’t want to drop-off in this next game.”
Lockdown and the long wait to get rugby back up and running has given Haining a bit of time to reflect on and digest that meteoric rise into the Test ranks at the start of the year.
“It was massive, a learning process all through the Six Nations,” he explained. “I only got five minutes off the bench in the next game [against England after his Dublin debut].
“I was really happy with my performances. It was a really enjoyable experience and something I hope to build on in the future.”
The frustrations that have come with the way the year have been offset by the positive focus of Haining’s girlfriend Efia being pregnant. They are expecting the new arrival in October.
“I did feel isolated at times and my girlfriend is pregnant so we were extra cautious with everything – not going out or seeing anyone – it was a bit of a strange time,” he said. “We got through it but it was challenging at times, definitely.”
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