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Hines' war cry is loud and Cler'

George Sand, the 19th Century French novelist, claimed that admiration and familiarity are strangers.

That when you encounter too much of one thing, apathy can sink in. That's not the feeling around the Leinster camp this week. Admiration? Yes. Familiarity? Two games in the space of six days would also indicate a response in the affirmative. Strangers? Never.

Nathan Hines is better qualified than most to talk about matters of French significance. His four-year spell with Perpignan means that whenever Gallic raiders hell bent on plundering European points roll into town, his is an opinion oft sought.

The Australian-born Scotland international keeps abreast of movements in France, checking in with the progress in the Top 14 and he knew from his past experiences the kind of welcome that would greet the Leinster team in le Stade Marcel Michelin.

The opportunity to test himself in a new environment was his primary reason for leaving the French side when he did, never content with plodding. Always probing. And evenings like Sunday last reinforced the reason why he loves to play the game.

In tandem with his second-row partner Leo Cullen and propelled by a physical, mobile back row, he thundered into tackles, swooping for ball at lineout time and displaying a dexterity with tenderly weighted offloads that belied a man of his physical being.

Unfussed and a kind of compliment repellent, Hines reflected on the performance and found faults in his own display and praise for the collective.

"I'm proud of the way the guys played," he admitted with a kind of frustrated sigh. "We were close to winning the game but at times we were a bit narrow in our defence and they did well to finish their two tries.

"We did have chances and we came close when Shane Jennings was called up for a double movement, but you lose and win games by fine margins in a tough competition like this against a good team like Clermont."

Hines lavished praise on his foot-soldiers in the pack and of the marriage of youth and experience in the backline, proving that the deft offload he displayed is not just an attribute he possesses on the park.

"Stade Marcel Michelin is a great little ground that they've got and they're very well supported, but I tend not to be worried about things like noise or intimidating atmospheres. When you go into a cauldron you have to try and use it to boost you.

"When we play in The RDS or the Aviva Stadium where we play this weekend you use the passion of the crowd to help you go that extra yard.


"We did well to quieten them down a bit. They got that bit more vocal in the last 20 minutes, but with well over 40,000 supporters behind us this weekend that will make things uncomfortable for Clermont.

"We're probably going to have more people on Saturday than Ireland had during November so that just tells you about the kind of support we've been getting, which is just incredible. The Aviva is a great ground to play in.

"People say that it's a bit strange with the smaller stand at the end, but I quite like that because it's a bit different. The surface is good and it's fast becoming one of my favourite grounds."

All in all, Hines is coming into a rich vein of form and this has transferred from Leinster through to Scotland where he excelled during their November series which included a famous win over world champions South Africa.

As always he savoured the opportunity to represent his country, but the form of the squad during the Magners League outings during that period softened the landing for the returning internationals.

"I think that we learned an awful lot about ourselves and the strength of the squad during that period," he said.

"It has been good to be a part of a winning Scotland team and, aside from the New Zealand game when they were red hot and we simply weren't, things have improved in recent games.

"It was great to turn that around against South Africa and then against Samoa. Mark my words, Samoa are going to be a real threat at the World Cup next year and the Irish boys will tell you that too I'm sure.

"But even though I enjoyed being away with Scotland, I couldn't wait to get back with Leinster and to meet up with the boys again. There's great team spirit here which means that you'll go the extra yard for your team-mates on the field.

"We came back from that series and got a decent result away to Llanelli, considering we were behind for a fair portion of the game, and though we lost on Sunday we were proud of our performance."

He doesn't strike you as a man to readily settle for moral victories, but taking a wide-lens view of the panel he has seen enough to indicate good times ahead.

"Sometimes results may not go your way, but if the spirit and belief levels are high in the changing-room then that's a strong base to build on. And we have that at Leinster.


"Our preparation over the past few weeks with the weather and injuries, and what have you, haven't been ideal. But our approach on game day has been first class.

"Against Clermont this Saturday we know that we'll have to be positive and aggressive from the off. The psychology of these back-to-back games in rounds 3 and 4 of the Heineken Cup is such that you have to treat each game as a separate entity.

"We have looked at a lot of footage of Clermont so our analysis this week has been a bit easier in some regards because you can focus on the one team. But that doesn't mean that the task itself is any easier!"

Amidst reflection comes focus and les Jaunards are firmly within his sights again.