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Derby drama firing Hines

IN aiming to write history, sometimes you have to step back and take a lesson from it.

May 2, 2009 is a date unlikely to be forgotten by Leinster supporters, but for Nathan Hines that day holds a special resonance.

An interested spectator in Croke Park, over with friends to witness the then record attendance for a club match in the history of the game, the Scotland international sat in the stands of the ‘Old Lady of Clonliffe Road’ and was captivated by both the ferocity of the exchanges and the passion of the crowd.

The feeling, that day, left an indelible mark. Fast forward two months and it’s the closing days of the British & Irish Lions tour of whose exclusive club he has recently become a member and a phone call which would change the direction of his career.

Having helped Perpignan on the journey to the famed Bouclier de Brennus, in a side which included the great Dan Carter, he sought out new challenges and, with his wife Leann and recently arrived baby boy Josh in tow, they moved to Dublin and the rest, as they say, is history.

“The funny thing about the Heineken Cup semi-final was that there was no inkling that I would end up with Leinster at that stage. I went along to experience a great occasion with my agent and some friends, but you could say Leinster’s performance left a big impression,” said Hines.

And then a pause. He must sometimes ponder the workings of fickle fate weaving its magic wand and plotting new challenges. A mainstay in the Leinster pack over the past two years, the 34-yearold will leave the province at the end of the season for a final sojourn in France with ASM Clermont Auvergne.

The prospect, he admits, is hugely exciting laced with regret because he will cherish the memories of his spell with Leinster – and the province’s supporters will no doubt reciprocate.

“Games like the ones against Munster are one of the main reasons why I moved here,” Hines revealed on the eve of tomorrow night’s showdown in Limerick.

“They’re a fantastic side with great supporters, like our own at Leinster.

“I think that if you look at Munster to date this year, they have been really consistent in the Magners League and the test for squads is in how they cope when they’re without a number of players for long periods during the season.

“We lost away to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Benetton Treviso and that put us on the back foot early on in the season and since then we’ve been trying to claw our way up the table. Really, though, they were games that we should have been targeting as wins.

“But Munster have played consistently, picking up points along the way even when they maybe haven’t been in top form and they deserve a lot of credit for that.

“Their threats are in the efficiency of how they secure setpieces, how they control play through the likes of Ronan O’Gara and in the pace and cutting edge that they have out wide. Throw in the Thomond Park factor and they’re seriously strong opponents who will look to put pressure on us. It’s up to us, in that regard, to match their physicality and try to exceed it.”

When it comes to the passion of derby days like these, he makes an equation with the Scotland/England rivalry which he is also familiar with. In fact, following the recent Six Nations clash between the two nations he drew on his own club experiences to try and quantify the quest for consistency.

“I can definitely see comparisons between Leinster/Munster and Scotland/England. It was a funny Six Nations for Scotland in that we started well against France but lost a game in which we had our chances. We were then heavily beaten by Wales and clawed it back against Ireland, so by the time we came up against England we could have beaten them.

“We usually have a team de-brief a day after we travel home from a game and at the meeting I just pointed out that when it comes to Munster games with Leinster, we see it as a ‘must win’ and we know that we have to raise our intensity accordingly. But we lack that bit of belief and consistency when it comes to Scotland sometimes. It’s hard to put your finger on it.”

So, if you were to sum up weeks like this, how would he do so? “I love the tribalism and the nerves in the week before the match,” he explains.

“All of the guys are on edge, in a good way, and feelings like that can bring the best out of you as a player. You savour moments like the coach journey into the ground and the way the crowd gets on top of you. Then you look and see the Leinster support and it just drives you on. It might be the last (Leinster/Munster) derby that I’ll play in, though you never know which way the play-offs might go, so you have to approach each game like it’s your last opportunity.”

Hines will relish the closing two months of his contract, but will be sad to leave. So what was it that enticed him to join the eastern province in the summer of 2009?

“Firstly, organisationally Leinster is seen as being very professional, but secondly was the quality of the team.

“The third was the opportunity to test myself against sides like Munster and to experience these derby matches.

“Moving on this summer is the last thing on my mind. Right now I’m determined to finish my Leinster career with some silverware.”

And if the paths should cross once more, you can rest assured he’ll be ready. Same as always.