independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

'You might only get one chance and you have to be sure to take it' -- Hines

Nathan Hines still can’t bear to watch semi-final loss to Leinster – now he’s on a revenge mission

It's still three days to go before the re-staging of 2012's most gripping rugby encounters and things are hotting up in Clermont.

Nathan Hines is cooking up a devilish plan as preparations intensify for a renewal of the most intense rivalry in European club rugby against his former side Leinster.

"Yup, we got homemade burgers on the way," the 36-year-old veteran chirps.

Inside, Leann and son Josh wait patiently for their meal. Thursday is the family's day off; the time to talk rugby is sparing.

Anyway, such is the simplistic brutality of this fixture, extensive analysis seems superfluous. It's destroy or be destroyed. Mistake-free rugby, on the edge of lawlessness and legality, flirting with thrilling danger, in attack and defence.

That's how last season's epic semi-final concluded in Bordeaux; with Gordon D'Arcy somehow spilling the ball as Wesley Fofana attempted to touch down for the winning try.

Leinster's subsequent facile final victory over Ulster confirmed that the winners in France were effectively crowned champions once Wayne Barnes shrilled the last peep from his whistle.

contenders

One could argue that whoever emerges from this back-to-back tussle over the next two weekends will be live contenders. Who knows, perhaps they could meet a third time, as Hines suggests.

The Scotland international – by way of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, Australia – has been kicking his heels lately, largely as a result of him kicking someone else; a six-week ban for stamping on Llanelli's Morgan Stoddart dimmed his side's sparkling 10-point haul for their opening two games.

"Of course I was guilty," he says as the spatula dances from the pan in the Hines family kitchen. "I was suspended for six weeks!"

Is this the hard man melting before our very eyes amidst this domestic docility? Mercifully not.

"You see exactly the same thing happening in every match and it's left unpunished and uncited," he spits in time with the oil sputtering from the pan.

"Even Leinster versus Exeter, there were five incidents from the one player doing the same thing and nothing was said. Maybe it was a bit harsh, six weeks. You just cop it and move on.

"I would have liked a couple of more games before this one. I don't really like not playing. Playing is better than watching, getting a rhythm. There's not much you can do to be fair. At least I'm fit. But it was tough.

"The report said the other player was in a 'vulnerable position'. Well, maybe because he was on the wrong side of the ruck."

Those of us who vehemently advocate the restoration of proper rucking echo his cry; his pleas are destined to wither upon the vine, though. Still, if there is punishment to be dished out on Sunday, Hines will dish it out.

"I respect the Leinster guys because I know whatever happens on the field stays there," he smiles. "They'll be doing the same but there'll be no ill-feeling afterwards.

"I've said Leo Cullen gets done a lot for being on the wrong side for being so ugly, but it's all just joshing. It's part of the game. They'll hang something on me as well.

"I've spoken to Shane Jennings and Isa Nacewa recently, texted Jonny Sexton. But it's a bit quieter this week.

"We've had a couple of games ringed in the calendar, Toulon at home in the Top 14 (when Clermont extended their remarkable unbeaten home record to 50 matches). But yeah, when the draw was made, everyone was going, 'yeah, this is the one we want'. It's the game everyone wants to play in. It's going to be interesting, I'd say."

Last year, Hines' early departure was just one of the many dramatic snapshots of an enthralling day's sport; many thought it was tactical error on Vern Cotter's part.

Instead, when we met in the Palace de la Comedie, the main square in Bordeaux the following morning, a playful punch from young Josh to his dad's rib cage revealed all.

"Lots of thing happened that day. I still haven't watched it. I've no real sense of it being a classic. I've seen snippets for analysis and stuff. I heard it was a good game but being so close, for us it would be a bit too painful to watch."

Neutrals rejoice in the epic nature of this rivalry; the participants less so, you imagine, such is the intensity of the exchanges.

"It's international rugby without the international jerseys. Julien Pierre (the club's second-row) was saying it the other day. You might only get one chance and you have to be effective that one time and get it right. And that's just like in internationals.

"Last year, we slip up in defence and Leinster score. They produce some great defence through Darce, we don't score.

"That's the game there. You can do all the analysis you want but it simply comes down to big moments and how you deal with them.

"You can end up second-guessing yourself all the time. He knows I know he knows me, so do I change the way I'm going to play in order to counter that or do I stay the same, thinking that he might be expecting me to change?

"Hell, it could start to mess with your head. It's just about going out to play and fight."

And with that, it's time to eat. The Hines family reunites.

On Sunday, he will be joining his rugby blood brothers. "Wrap up," he warns. "It won't get above freezing after kick-off."

He smiles ruefully. For him, a sweltering cauldron awaits.

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