Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rugby: Hines knows all about Italy's mystery man ahead of Six Nations clash

NATHAN HINES today delved into his rugby league background to provide inside track on one of the most controversial players to grace the RBS Six Nations.

Expected to gain a ninth cap at stand-off for Italy in Rome on Saturday is 31-year-old Australian-born Craig Gower, a virtual unknown in union circles before making his debut last summer – except to the likes of Hines, who was also born in Australia and came across Gower in the 13-a-side code there.

Hines was born in Wagga Wagga and moved to Scotland in 1998 where he took advantage of ancestry qualifications.

He said: "Craig was at Penrith Panthers when I was at the Bears and although he was a year younger I learned how he was being earmarked even as a teenager to become a Kangaroo. His breakthrough into top grade rugby league came early."

"Although he hasn't had heaps of 15-a-side experience and even less in the international arena he still has that rugby brain which enables him to see opportunities when they arise."

Hines returns to the Scotland squad after withdrawing from the team which visited Wales due to ankle damage. Although listed on the bench it is likely he will emerge at some stage for a 63rd Test appearance making him the most capped player in a squad that will have Hugo Southwell and Chris Cusiter turning out for the 50th time.

It is a landmark that Hines is particularly proud of and makes him suitably qualified to remark on just what the occasion will mean.

"Chris is captain and knows what it is like to lead the team out but that could be a new experience for Hugo this weekend.

"Although I'm obviously sorry Chris Paterson is out through injury it is good that Hugo's 50th appearance will seen him able to run on at the start.

"All the focus is on getting a win this weekend but that still shouldn't obscure two tremendous achievement. I'd like to think when you make that number of appearances you are recognised as having made a contribution although it is mainly later that you look back on things like that."

As for Hines being able to get insight through playing club rugby at Leinster who are chock-a-block with Irish internationalists, many of whom were in action against Italy at the start of the current series, he insists dialogue is always limited when it comes to exchanging notes.

"It's maybe strange but at Leinster there is rarely a lot of chat about the international scene although, when Scotland beat Australia last Autumn, that did merit a few 'well dones'.

Perhaps that is because Hines and his mates have been pre-occupied with their defence of the Heineken European Cup – they host Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals – while a recent 30-0 win over Munster was a highlight of his time in the Irish capital, so far.

The intensive schedule can take its toll, though, culminating in that ankle injury which provoked his absence from the Cardiff clash and opened a door for Jim Hamilton who retains his place.

"There was a time when I played when I maybe should have rested and against France I aggravated swelling in my ankle joints.

"It presented itself as a calf strain but as that subsided my ankle became sore.

"I learned my lesson from playing when I probably should have pulled out and I have now had two injections in my ankle so feel really good to go."

France V Italy Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

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