Icon­o­clas­tic hero Hines takes coach­ing step with Scot­land

For­mer Clermont lock is hang­ing up his boots af­ter op­por­tu­nity knocks with Cotter

The Herald - Sport - - RUGBY UNION - STU­ART BATH­GATE

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.”

Pic­ture: Getty

FOR SALE: Nathan Hines, in his days as a Clermont player, who had the op­tion of another year at Sale.

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