Ireland v Scotland: Nick Haining on verge of realising a once-implausible dream

Edinburgh No 8 could make Test debut against Ireland after being called up by Gregor Townsend

Nick Haining
Edinburgh No 8 Nick Haining. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson.

IT may sound incongruous to talk of a 29-year-old’s rapid rise to the international ranks, but it is certainly accurate in the case of Nick Haining. Although the Australian-born No 8 may have grown up knowing he was eligible to play for Scotland thanks to his Dundonian grandmother, until recently he regarded that eligibility as merely theoretical. 

Now, though, something that was at best a vague dream is on the verge of becoming reality. Having been called up by Gregor Townsend for his Six Nations squad, Haining could today find himself in the matchday 23 to face Ireland. If he is in the squad, and goes on to make his debut on Saturday, it will be the culmination of an ascent to prominence that began when he signed for Edinburgh last summer. 

Haining actually played against the British & Irish Lions back in 2013, turning out on the wing for Western Force and finding himself marking Sean Maitland, now a fellow-member of the Scotland squad. For long enough, that game seemed to have only curiosity value, and he gave little thought to further outings in representative rugby after moving from Australia first to Jersey Reds and then on to Bristol Bears. But then Richard Cockerill intervened, signing him for the capital club. And, although Haining clearly deserves a lot of credit for winning a place in Townsend’s squad thanks to some impressive outings for Edinburgh, he prefers to highlight the role played by the former England international. 

“It’s been massive,” he said of Cockerill’s role in his rise. “He’s got a real tough edge, and the way he’s developed my game in the five months I’ve been here has played a massive part in the way I’ve played and the mental attitude as well.

“There was always an element there of aspiring to be in the Scotland squad. Being in Edinburgh, and starting a few games for Edinburgh, you think ‘I can try hard enough and do everything right, tick the boxes, I’ll get to playing internationally’. 

“But at the time you’re so focused on Edinburgh that you don’t really think of it that much. You just want to get your performances out on the pitch and then hopefully the work will take care of itself, which it has. Coming into the squad now has been enormous for me. It was a real honour and I’m very excited.

To be honest, international rugby wasn’t ever really on my radar early in my career,” he said. “I had recently left the academy at Western Force and had been brought back in two weeks later to face the Lions, so back then it was a dream. 

“I’d always aspired to play international rugby, but I was quite far down the food chain at that point, so I decided to move over to England to play some rugby. But as time’s gone on it’s become more of a reality, and getting selected in the squad two weeks ago was just unbelievable.”

The 22-year-old Haining would certainly have found it unbelievable back in 2013 had you told him that one day he would be in the Scotland ranks alongside Maitland rather than playing against him. “We haven’t actually talked about it yet,” Haining admitted when asked if he had swapped memories with his new team-mate. 

“I remember it quite clearly, to be honest. It was a massive deal for me at the time. It was a surreal experience, and I guess not a lot of people can say they’ve played against the Lions. It was huge for me at the time, and I never thought I’d be playing with a few of these boys now.”

For a while after that outing against the Lions, giving up professional rugby altogether appeared a far more realistic possibility than sticking with it and ending up as an international. “There were definitely points,” Haining continued when asked if he had ever thought of calling it a day. 

“After I left the Academy at Western Force and things weren’t really progressing in Australia, anyone in that sort of position weighs up their options. I was doing university at that time and thought ‘Do I play casually at my local club and just take a different career path?’

“But I was actually inspired to go over by a few of my mates who were playing in Jersey, and said ‘chuck your highlight reel out and see where you go from there’. That spurred me on to go on and enjoy rugby a bit. Getting that enjoyment back in Jersey, and going from there to Bristol and then onto Edinburgh, and just enjoying it, got me to where I was.”

Of course, he could not have come this far without his grandmother Norma, now 80 and, he says, just as enthused by his call-up as he has been himself. I had a chat to her last week and she was over the moon, very excited.  She’s from Dundee and has still got a very thick accent. 

“She’s in Perth [in Western Australia] at the moment. She’s living in a retirement village. The game might be a bit late for her, but I’m sure she’ll go round to my place and somebody will show her the replay.”

 

About Stuart Bathgate 1431 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.