NICK Haining has settled in so quickly to life as an Edinburgh player that it is hard to remember he has only made 10 appearances so far for the team he joined last summer – not to mention the two he has made for Scotland. Indeed, the 29-year-old No 8 feels sufficiently at home with Richard Cockerill’s squad that he would like to spend the rest of his career there.
He has another season to run on his current contract after this one, so there is no rush to decide his future. But, after a gradual rise through the ranks from the Western Force academy in his native Australia to Jersey Reds then Bristol Bears, the speed of his progress with Edinburgh makes it clear that he has found a place where he can thrive.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far – it’s been a great year,” Haining said earlier this week. “With everything that’s happened with myself, I’ve really enjoyed it. I don’t know how long that [the remainder of his career] will be – if it will be two years or three years or what – but I’m 29 now, so… I don’t know, we’ll have to see, but yeah, I would like to see out my career here if I could.
“I think I’ve definitely progressed since I’ve been here. I’m always trying to improve in everything and I’m sure every other player is as well. But I think everything I’ve learned since being here from Cockers, from Gregor, everyone in the Scotland squad, all my team-mates – I think you’re continually progressing.”
Jute, Jam and Nick Haining
Haining, who qualifies for Scotland through a Dundonian grandmother, was one of half a dozen uncapped players named by national coach Townsend last month in his initial training squad for the Six Nations. After being earmarked for a place on the bench for the opening match against Ireland, he was named in the starting line-up when Edinburgh team-mate Magnus Bradbury had to withdraw through injury. With Bradbury restored to fitness and back in the team, Haining was a substitute for the Calcutta Cup match, but dropped out of the 23 to play Italy when Glasgow’s Matt Fagerson also became match-fit again after injury.
Given how well he played, he could regard himself as unfortunate to be dropped, but rather than dwelling on his demotion prefers to take the positives from the experience and hope that his chance comes again in next month’s two two remaining Championship matches against France and Wales. “It was a big surprise to actually start in the Ireland game,” he said. “I was quite nervous at the time as well. No, I just felt like I enjoyed playing those games – I didn’t play that much in the England game, but that’s just the way it goes.
“There were obviously a few things to work on as well – being my first international caps, there’s always stuff to work on. But I was quite happy with the games, and moving forward I’ll hopefully get another shot.
“I’ve learned a lot since we’ve been there. It’s a very accelerated learning sort of thing – you have to go in and learn everything very quickly. But it’s helped with having all the Edinburgh boys around, getting to know everyone as well.”
With the formidable Bill Mata competing for the No 8 jersey as well as Bradbury, Haining knows he has a tough fight on his hands if he is to get an extended run in the starting 15. But he welcomes the competition, and believes that he and Mata have complementary strengths. “I wouldn’t mind being the size of Bill, to be honest. No, I think we both bring different stuff to the table and that sort of balances out in the team as well when we’re playing together.
“And then when you’ve got someone like Luke Crosbie on the weekend in the back row as well putting the shift in that he did, it balances everything out. Yeah, I feel like I play to my strengths and they’ll play to theirs and that helps the team.”
Playing the Blues
We will learn at lunchtime tomorrow (Thursday) whether Haining will make appearance No 11 for Edinburgh when they take on Cardiff Blues in the PRO14 on Friday night. But whether he plays from the start, is on the bench, or is not in the 23 at all, he is sure that the team can build on the results – most recently wins against Scarlets and Connacht – that have taken them to the top of Conference B.
“I think it’s a testament to everyone in the squad and the depth that we do have to have got those results so far,” he added. “It wasn’t an easy game at Scarlets but we ground out the win, then we had a good performance against Connacht at the weekend. We’re confident going into Cardiff and we think we can really take max points from that and not give them anything. They’ll be a good side, but we’re in good form at the moment and we’re confident.”