Not so, says Nathan Hines. The much-travelled Scottish international enjoyed his seasons with Leinster but he hasn’t been pestered by coaches looking for an insight into their Irish opponents.
“The backroom staff here are pretty good, obviously — they don’t need me to tell them just how much quality Munster can bring to a Heineken Cup knock-out game, particularly after their win away to Harlequins.
“That’s not an arrogance on our part. We focus on our Top 14 games from week to week and last week our focus was on Toulouse, that’s a huge game for us. We wouldn’t be getting ahead of ourselves and looking at Munster before time, not at all.”
They reaped the benefits of that focus last weekend, surging past Toulouse on a 39-17 scoreline. It sounds a facile victory, but is a bruising domestic encounter like that ideal preparation for a crunch European tie?
“I think it’s good preparation for us ahead of a European game. When I was with Leinster it was quite common for Munster to play Leinster the week before a Heineken Cup game. That’s not the case this weekend back in Ireland, they’re not playing each other, but it was particularly true in the earlier rounds of the competition, and quite obviously neither team could spare players when they were playing that kind of local derby.
“The game against Toulouse was very good preparation for us — it’s a high pressure game in front of a big crowd, so it’s obviously going to replicate the conditions you’d face in the Heineken Cup game. At times maybe teams don’t put out a full team in a RaboDirect match before a Heineken Cup game, but so long as nobody gets injured then you can’t get better preparation than a big game. Still, a player can get injured walking onto the field for a training session, that’s a risk that’s always there anyway.”
Asked to compare a previous posting in the Catalan region with Perpignan, Hines offers a neat comparison.
“Culturally they’re pretty different, which you would expect from two different areas within France — there’s a fair distance between Clermont and Perpignan.
“But in Ireland, for instance, you’d expect people in Dublin to be different to other parts of the country in Ireland, and it’s the same here. Perpignan is a strong Catalan area, for instance, so that feeds into the culture of the club itself and the sense that it represents the culture of the area.”
Hines breaks that difference down even further: “As for the clubs themselves, they’re quite different. Vern (Cotter, Clermont coach) would bring a New Zealand approach to organisation, which is probably a more Anglo-Saxon approach than French.
“That makes Clermont different to other clubs in France — here we just have to concentrate on our rugby, and everything else is looked after for us.”
Hines is aware of the furore over Munster’s Paul O’Connell, who escaped a citing for kicking Dave Kearney of Leinster in the head a couple of weeks ago. The big Scot dismisses the controversy as something “beyond our control”, referring to himself and his team-mates.
“It’s been in the newspapers here, and on rugby websites. There’s been some discussion of it, certainly. What can we do about it? That’s something that’s outside our control.
“Our focus last week was on Toulouse, a huge game for us in our own league and one we couldn’t afford to look beyond, and now our focus is on Munster. Whether someone is suspended or not isn’t something we can affect.”
Hines weighs in with positives, however, when it comes to Joe Schmidt’s candidacy for the Ireland head coach position, having worked with Schmidt at Leinster.
“He’s done good things with Leinster and here in Clermont before he went to Ireland. You talk to anybody in Clermont and they’re full of praise for him as a coach and as a person. If Joe were offered the job and decided to take it, I don’t think he’d let anybody down, certainly. I’m not familiar with the others who are in the frame but Joe’s certainly a top coach.”
Hines will be 37 next birthday, but he’s healthy and happy back in France.
“I’m fine, nothing to complain about. It’s overcast today, about 18 degrees. It was 26, 27 yesterday, mind. Nice.”
So given Montpelier is further south, it’d be a venue worth visiting...
“For sure, It’s a nice town, the beaches aren’t too far from town. The weather should be pretty good, you can get in some culture and hit the beach for an afternoon. There’ll be a good game of rugby to watch. What is there to worry about?”