RWC Special: Scotland look to adopted son to provide the forward thrust

Power of Hines could prove a crucial weapon
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The Independent Online

Whatever fate befalls him back in his homeland during the course of the World Cup, Nathan Hines will always have his own niche in the annals of Scottish rugby union. At the rather appositely-named Balboa Park in San Francisco in June 2002, the 6ft 7in lock performed a more than passable Rocky impression, laying out the debutant United States hooker Dan Anderson. In doing so, he became the first Scottish player to be sent off in an international match. To date, he remains the only one, too.

Not that Hines is proud of his place in the record books. Nor is he relishing the prospect of his Balboa blot being resurrected when Scotland's World Cup campaign brings Ian McGeechan's men into contact with the US at Ballymore on 20 October.

"Yeah, I'm sure it'll come up again," the towering Hines ponders. "At the time, it was just one thing that got out of hand. It's not a habit that I've got, of going and doing that sort of thing. I mean, I really regret it, doing something like that, to a player going for his first cap as well.

"I didn't get to talk to him. He was already off to hospital by the time I went over to speak to him. Hopefully, I'll get the chance over in Australia. But, yeah, I'm sure the whole thing is going to be mentioned all over again."

It is a credit to Hines that there has been little mention of his indiscretion this past year or so. He has successfully redeemed his reputation on the Caledonian rugby scene, making his mark as a lock of distinction. He emerged with man-of-the-match honours when Scotland came close to beating the Springboks on their own veldt in Pretoria in June, outscoring them 3-2 on the try front but losing 29-25.

The Edinburgh player has also battled back from damaging a shoulder joint in the second Test of that summer tour to establish himself as Scott Murray's second row partner in a Scotland pack capable of holding its own on the global stage. He has earned no less an admirer than Jim Telfer, that most demanding scrutineer of the playing pack.

"Nathan is a combative type who can make inroads into the opposition defence," says the sexagenarian who will be assisting McGeechan with the Caledonian coaching duties in Australia before retiring as the Scottish Rugby Union's Director of Rugby. "He has the confidence and the ability to take on men and beat them. The ability of forwards to do that now is very, very important."

It is likely to be particularly important to Scotland in their World Cup cause, given their lack of penetrating force behind the scrum - and the likelihood that they will have to beat the hyper-combative Fijians to secure the runners-up spot in Pool B, unless they can somehow manage to upset the French at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney.

Scotland have never failed to reach the World Cup quarter-finals and if they make it to the last eight this time, as Pool B second-placers, they are likely to be confronted by the holders and hosts. That would present Hines - a native of Wagga Wagga, the New South Wales town that gave the sporting world Geoff Lawson, Mark Taylor, Scobie Breasley and Tony Roche - with the potentially bewildering experience of listening to Advance Australia Fair as an opposition player at Ballymore on 8 November.

So what would that mean to the 26-year-old adopted Scot? "Nothing," he says, deadpan. "My first priority is to help us finish top in our group and there could be an upset in Australia's group. They're not playing at their best and they've got to play Ireland and Argentina, who are both playing pretty good rugby. But if we do play against Australia, we play against Australia. I don't care.

"The fact that we're going to Australia doesn't mean that much to me. The things that will mean the most to me will be playing in the World Cup and playing for Scotland. It makes it easier for my mum and dad to come and watch me. But, for me personally, I would not really worry where the World Cup is. It's the World Cup. You'd play it anywhere."

Hines gained an education in the school of sporting pragmatism when he played rugby league for North Sydney Bears. He had only just switched to rugby union, playing for Manly, when he set off for a holiday in Scotland with his girlfriend, Leann. "We arrived in Galashiels thinking we'd be here for four months, but things just took off," Hines reflected.

Indeed, they have taken off to such an extent the couple have stayed in Scotland for five years now. Leann has become Mrs Hines. And Mr Hines has become a key lock, as it were, for the land of his Govan-born grandmother - with 14 caps and counting.

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