Scotland hopeful Nick Haining credits Richard Cockerill for his rapid rise

Seven years ago, in his only experience to date of anything close to international rugby, Nick Haining played for Western Force against the British & Irish Lions, and found himself marking Sean Maitland. Today, a remarkable rise to prominence could culminate in his being named in the same Scotland matchday squad as the Saracens winger.
Nick Haining training with the Scotland squad at Oriam. Picture: Ross Parker/SNSNick Haining training with the Scotland squad at Oriam. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Nick Haining training with the Scotland squad at Oriam. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

The Australian-born 
No 8 has not exactly been idle since that day in 2013 when he turned out against the Lions, but it would be fair to say that only in the last few months has his career rarely taken off. Having a grandmother from Dundee, he always knew he was Scottish-qualified, yet that was a matter of merely academic importance during his three years playing for the Jersey Reds and another two with Bristol Bears.

Then, along came Richard Cockerill, the head coach who signed him for Edinburgh last summer, and thus began the dizzying ascent which has seen the 29-year-old selected by Gregor Townsend for his Six Nations squad.

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It is an ascent which Haining himself describes as “unbelievable”. Given that every move has taken him closer to Scotland, his career path may appear to have been calmly planned, but in fact, as he explained, little or no logic was involved.

“To be honest, international rugby wasn’t ever really on my radar early in my career,” he said. “I had recently left the academy at Western Force and had been brought back in two weeks later to face the Lions, so back then it was a dream.

“I’d always aspired to play international rugby, but I was quite far down the food chain at that point, so I decided to move over to England to play some rugby. But as time’s gone on it’s become more of a reality, and getting selected in the squad two weeks ago was just unbelievable.”

At 6ft 4in and a touch over 18 stone, Haining has a rugged and robust interpretation of the No 8’s role, and his quality was immediately clear from his first few outings for Edinburgh. Given that Bill Mata and Magnus Bradbury would soon be back from the World Cup, he had to make that sort of speedy impact to have a chance of continued selection, and he seized the chance with both hands. However, while he obviously merits a lot of the credit himself for playing his way into the national squad, Haining believes that the role of Cockerill has been critical.

“It’s been massive,” he continued. “He’s got a real tough edge, and the way he’s developed my game in the five months I’ve been here has played a massive part in the way I’ve played and the mental attitude as well.

“There was always an element there of aspiring to be in the Scotland squad. Being in Edinburgh, and starting a few games for Edinburgh, you think ‘I can try hard enough and do everything right, tick the boxes, I’ll get to be playing internationally’.

“But at the time you’re so focused on Edinburgh that you don’t really think of it that much. You just want to get your performances out on the pitch and then hopefully the work will take care of itself, which it has. Coming into the squad now has been enormous for me. It was a real honour and I’m very excited.”

Haining’s grandmother Norma, now 80, is just as excited, he explained. “I had a chat to her last week and she was over the moon, very excited. She’s from Dundee and has still got a very thick accent.

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“She’s in Perth [the Western Australian one] at the moment. She’s living in a retirement village. The game might be a bit late for her, but I’m sure she’ll go round to my place and somebody will show her the replay.”

But was Sean Maitland just as excited to be reminded of that match for the Lions back in 2013? “We haven’t actually talked about it yet,” Haining admitted. “I remember it quite clearly, to be honest. It was a massive deal for me at the time. It was a surreal experience, and I guess not a lot of people can say they’ve played against the Lions. It was huge for me at the time, and I never thought I’d be playing with a few of these boys now.”