Familiar face Hines relishing RDS return
When Devin Toner was asked this week about his memories of Nathan Hines, he immediately compared him to Leo Cullen.
The Ireland second-row partnered both men when he was earning his own stripes at Leinster and today he'll be down on the pitch while his old team-mates are in opposing coaching boxes.
"He was kind of like what Leo was as a player," Toner recalled of the former Scotland international who returns to the RDS with Montpellier this lunchtime. "He was naturally coaching as he played, he was always speaking up in meetings and was kind of driving the front-five ethos of getting in their face and disrupting."
Hines emits a large guffaw when Toner's assessment is put to him.
Perhaps he doesn't recognise the comparison, maybe he's just being modest, but since he retired from playing in 2015 he has been steadily building a coaching reputation under the tutelage of Vern Cotter.
He linked up with the New Zealander at Scotland and when Cotter was bizarrely told his services were no longer needed having resurrected the national team's fortunes, Hines chose to follow him to Montpellier.
Although he played at the Aviva Stadium for Clermont after leaving Leinster in 2012, today is his first visit back to his old stomping ground.
"I haven't been to the RDS since I left. I played at the Aviva, but not at the RDS so it's going to be good, I'm really looking forward to it," he says, recalling his two years with Leinster.
"The team was successful, I was lucky to be part of that team, that group - I learnt a lot.
"I had two really good years, I always look back and I'm glad that I spent two years in Dublin. I was happy to get back with Clermont when we played and it'll be good be good to get back this weekend."
He is not surprised that Cullen will be coaching opposite him this afternoon.
"When Dev talks about me being a coach, half-coach, half-player - Leo was more than that," he says of his former captain. "It's great to be given the opportunity to grow and be given the responsibility early, he's done a great job."
Like Cullen, Hines is a young coach still working out the transition from playing to taking charge and adapting to not being a normal member of the squad any more.
"When you're a player, it's not the responsibility that you have when you're a coach and socially it's different," he explains of the challenge.
"Not as in going out, but the dynamic is different. One day you're on the field, the next you're off. You're the same person, doing the same thing but because of the role you have, sometimes it changes things.
"You don't spend as much time with the players as you did, but yeah, it's difficult. You're trying to learn and develop, like with any new job.
"When you are within a group as a player on the pitch, you've got that contact with your team-mates the whole time. You can talk and fix things on the run.
"Whereas as a coach, you don't have that luxury. It's about getting things clear and accurate to make sure there's understanding so the players have all the tools to do whatever you need to do."
Their project is in its infancy, but they have serious financial backing to call on.
Last summer, Aaron Cruden, Ruan Pienaar, Louis Picamoles and Jan Serfontein were among the new arrivals to the club as owner Mohed Altrad splashed the cash.
The challenge, Hines says, is making the collection of individuals into a cohesive, functioning team.
"We're lucky to have some great players in our squad," he says.
"But it's about more than just having the players, you can have the best players in the world but it doesn't come together if you don't have a team like what they have at Leinster. They really work for each other and are a really tight group of players.
"Everyone's trying to emphasise that. It's no secret that it's about talking to each other and making sure we're on the same page.
"It's about helping everyone learn. We just want people to work together."
Cotter knows the territory well, having guided Clermont to their first Top 14 title in 2010 along with now-Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
His tenure with Scotland was a successful one too as he turned around a decade of poor results and was a bad refereeing decision away from a World Cup quarter-final.
The SRU's decision to replace him was a curious one, but Hines is an old pro at this stage and just says it was part of the business.
"What can you do? It's not our choice, it was a choice made from above us," he recalls.
"It's professional sport, all you can do as a player or as a coach is the best you can.
"Some things are out of your control, I was happy with the job that I did. Hopefully Vern is happy with the job he did, I think he did a great job and other than that what else can you do?
"You do the best you can, try to get better every day and then if you get told that there's going to be changes, you just deal with it. It's just the way it goes."
So, Hines' journey brings him back to familiar territory and when he arrives in Ballsbridge he'll take a moment to drink in the old ground and perhaps greet some old faces. Then, it will be down to business.
"I'm sure he'll be telling them to get in our face," Toner said knowingly.
Leinster won't expect anything less.
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