Braveheart Hines happy to keep on battling for Scots cause
Nathan Hines could be forgiven wanting to chuck it all in. One of the best second-rows of his generation, he has nevertheless found himself playing in arguably the bleakest era in Scottish rugby history.
Scotland were still in the business of winning Five Nations Championships when the Australia-born forward originally pledged his allegiance to the land of his maternal grandfather.
But, the odd Calcutta Cup victory aside, the only thing they have looked like winning since the advent of the Six Nations has been the wooden spoon. At 33, Hines is not getting any younger either and has suffered more than one serious injury along the way.
Yet, as this season's Six Nations approaches, the veteran lock's enthusiasm for Test rugby not only remains undimmed, but may be stronger than ever thanks to a number of changes both on and off the field.
Hines became a father at this time last year, something which has given him a new lease of life outside of rugby. And the same applies from a career perspective thanks to a new club in Leinster and a new Scotland head coach in Andy Robinson.
"I'm not looking to stop playing," Hines said, ahead of what will be his eighth Six Nations.
"Physically and mentally I'm feeling in better shape than I have probably been in the last four or five years. The strength and conditioning guys at Leinster really pay attention to how you're feeling and how your body is and adjust your training schedules accordingly."
He added: "We played Ulster and I was really sore after the game on the Monday, so they pulled me from contact until the Thursday. That's the kind of thing that wouldn't happen in France."
The "four or five years" Hines refers to were spent at Perpignan, the club he left under something of a cloud last summer. His then-employers took umbrage at his decision to put a place on the Lions tour ahead of league business and a parting of the ways ensued. Hines has not looked back since, with Leinster emerging as one of the teams to beat, both in the Magners League and in the defence of the Heineken Cup.
The new acquisition has been impressed by the "clear gameplan" at Leinster, something he believes is also a feature of Scotland under Robinson.
"He lets you know what gameplan he wants to play," Hines said of the man who succeeded Frank Hadden last summer. "He lets you know what he thinks you're good at and what he wants you to do in the game to help the team.
"You've got a really simple idea of what you need to do in the game. Your head's not cluttered with other things. You're just worried about doing your job."
And while Hines did not elaborate on whether that was missing under Hadden, there can be no doubt of the main difference under Robinson.
"Andy expects an intensity," Hines said of the fiercely-competitive former England head coach. When you need to bring an intensity to training or to a game, he expects it to be there.
"He can be an intense guy, but he's confident in his own ability and places a lot of confidence in us."
Knee surgery meant Hines missed nearly all of last season's Six Nations and he was only fit enough to come off the bench in the defeats to Ireland and England.
Watching games from the sidelines reminded him just how special the competition is.
"When you step back and look at the tournament from a spectator's point of view or outsider's point of view, it's still one of the greatest rugby tournaments," he said.
Hines was an automatic pick under Hadden alongside Jim Hamilton, but an injury to the latter allowed Alastair Kellock to kick-start his own Test career during the autumn internationals.
"The competition for places makes training a little bit more entertaining," Hines said. "If people put more in there, we'll start reaping the rewards on the pitch in tight games."
And games did not get much tighter than November's historic 9-8 win over Australia, a first for Scotland since 1982. That was followed by a defeat to Argentina, so Hines is understandably cautious over talk about the latest new dawn for Scottish rugby.
"It's little bit too early," he said. "It would have been a lot better if we'd beaten Argentina, to be honest. We're all disappointed that we let that one slip. But I think within ourselves we know we're making progress. Andy's getting the best from us."