Iconoclastic hero Hines takes coaching step with Scotland
Former Clermont lock is hanging up his boots after opportunity knocks with Cotter
THERE was a time, and not too long ago at that, when the notion of Nathan Hines becoming a national coach would have been implausible at best. His explosive power on the pitch was an undoubted asset when channelled correctly, but he often seemed too individualistic, too emotionally engaged, to be the sort of player who could make a natural transition to the more dispassionate art of coaching.
Yet here he is, part of Vern Cotter’s team for the Rugby World Cup and beyond, with the title of “resource coach” – a wide-ranging role that will take in some mentoring of younger players and a lot of rugby-specific detail designed to be of help to the whole team. And, although the appointment may have come out of the blue for those of us in Scotland who have not seen Hines in action for Sale or Clermont Auvergne in recent years, the man himself feels it is the logical next step from a period in which he played an increasing leadership role on the pitch.
He had a year left to go on his contract with Sale, but, having turned 39 in March, had already been thinking of ending his playing days when Cotter came calling. As he had worked well with the New Zealander at Clermont, he did not need much persuading to join Scotland once Sale had agreed to part company with him.
“I didn’t know if I could physically handle having another year [as a player], and I didn’t want Sale to be left with someone who couldn’t perform,” he explains. “So when Vern asked if I’d be interested in joining up here, I’d already said to Sale that I was thinking about stopping anyway.
“They knew when I signed that I was old. And it was better for them to have someone who can play the whole season rather than to have a player struggling through. They would have been fine with me staying on, but it’s better for everyone if they’ve got someone who can finish a season and play as many games as they can. So they’re happy.
“It was a difficult decision to stop after 17 years of playing. That’s what I had in my mind: do I stop playing? It’s not a natural thing to not be playing after so long.
“But the opportunity was really good, and it coincided with my feelings about continuing. I was just excited to get that opportunity to come here and help the team I played for.”
In addition to the general desire to be a coach, Hines was enthused by the specific opportunity to work for Cotter, a man whose values are very close to his own. “I just like the way he operates. He’s straight up, he’s honest, he likes things pretty simple. He has old-school values: being a man, not hiding. He likes a bit of confrontation as well. I think that’s something the players respect: being told what’s happening, and not being told one thing and another thing being thought.
“He likes a bit of confrontation during the game: hard players, hard carries, forwards doing their job. And conversely confrontation if you’re not doing well and not hitting your targets.
“He’s not afraid to tell you. There’s no room in the game for politeness. It’s all about honesty. We’re here to do the best we can and go as far down the line, be as successful as we can. And sometimes being told that you’re overweight or not fit enough, you need to be told and make changes, otherwise you’re not going to get the best out of yourself and give your best to your team-mates.
“We had kept in contact. We had a good working relationship after Clermont, sometimes I’d ring him up and say: ‘Oh mate, unlucky’ or ‘that was awesome, that was really good’.
“If Clermont were playing and had a disastrous game or had done really well, I’d text him. Or in the Six Nations . . . It’s tough as a coach when you’ve had a good November.
“The first two Six Nations games were tough, because they had an opportunity to win. I didn’t want the old fella to feel under pressure, so I gave him a bit of encouragement.
“When I was at Clermont, I did lineout, attack, defence, opportunities around the set piece and stuff. If you’d asked me 10 years ago would I be interested in coaching, I think I’d probably have said no. But in time the age gap between myself and the other players widens. I’ve got more experience, so you end up helping out, then you get more responsibility. It happened naturally.”
That age gap stretches to nearly two decades in the case of the youngest members of the squad, but Hines obviously has very fresh memories of what it is like to be a player. What is more, he knows what it takes to prepare for and play at a World Cup, and will use that knowledge to encourage players to put all their energies into preparations.
“My role is to help the younger kids, mentoring a little bit, so it’s a bit more personal than being a coach. I think even as a coach you’ve got to interact with your players to some degree. You can’t work out how a guy ticks, how to get the best out of somebody, if you don’t know them on a personal level. You can still get to know someone and bark at them at the same time, but hopefully it gets to the point where they don’t need to be barked at.
“I can talk to them: I’ve only just finished playing three weeks ago, I played at the last World Cup so I know what this preparation is like.”
FOR SALE: Nathan Hines, in his days as a Clermont player, who had the option of another year at Sale.