Hines fully aware of the scale of the task
When he left he knew there was one certainty, one path his career would take him and that was straight back to Leinster. One of life’s verities in rugby is that you always meet the team you have just left and always in a pivotal match.
Last year it was the Heineken Cup semi-final. This year it’s the pool stages and the former Leinster secondrow doesn’t bat an eyelid. It was written in tablets of stone and brought down from the mountain. There are no longer any surprises for Clermont’s former League player from Wagga Wagga.
Clermont were slow to start last week. And while Hines knows that “Leinster can set the world on fire” the dynamics of back-to-back matches may usher the pressure on to the home team.
As always in such matches it’s a balancing act between absorbing the must-do heat of scoring tries and building expectation with the sweet familiarity of the Aviva Stadium and the energy gained from 45,000 people shouting the name of the home team.
“There’s a lot of pressure on Leinster now,” he says – and what else would he say?
“We won our home game and they need to win theirs. The same thing happened two years ago. Leinster lost here and then pretty much ran away with the game 24-8, I think it was. That’s the kind of team you’re dealing with. When you are playing against the Champions of Europe, they can turn up on a day and wipe the floor with you. That’s the quality.”
Hines is not one to rush in and to bait his former team -mates in any way he knows is foolishness. Flattery, or at least heartfelt respect is generally a better play. While his intelligence on the Leinster players would appear to be a valuable for this week’s work, his instincts are that he may be too close to the Leinster players after his 2009-11 Dublin stretch. It’s an interesting twist on an age-old issue.
“Look at our team and there are some pretty experienced guys. The problem may be with me,” he says. “I might be too close to it and I might not see things other people can because they are objective. I think it’s the same principles for any game. It’s about receiving pressure and putting pressure on. In the second half this week we put too much pressure on our selves.”
“Yes we can win (in Dublin) yeah. Sometimes you can play badly and win. But we could play well and they could beat us. I’m confident we can put in a good performance and that will give us a great opportunity to win. Last week I thought sometimes we let ourselves down, could have kept the ball a little bit more, made a couple of mistakes, knock-ons and stuff.
“Leinster also missed a couple of opportunities. But that’s the way rugby is. It’s like two boxers going for it. They land a punch and we took it and then we landed one and they took it so we’re not really knocking each other out.”
O’Driscoll, Kearney, Fitzgerald, they don’t matter, says the 36-year-old. But of course they do. However, Clermont and particularly the experienced Hines are determined to see Aviva as the European champions’ citadel regardless of a rump of their blue chip players being on the injury list. The closeness of the result in last weekend’s game of boots (15-12), however, should leave him nervous enough. Leinster’s conundrum is they need tries, something traditionally right up their street.
“That’s irrelevant. Those things we can’t worry about, don’t worry about,” he says of the missing international players. “They have no influence on the game. They are not there and the only influence they have is that they are missing and someone else is playing. Clermont are concentrating on the players playing and what they can do. . . ”
What he understands for certain is the back-to-back matches are a unique eccentricity of the competition, one that brings a different dynamic to what are generally swing matches.
Basic mathematics and the shape of the other pools means Leinster’s position is fraught. But, as Hines agrees, the minds of both sets of players are clear about what aspects of their play they need to sharpen.
“It’s like you’re playing four quarters,” says Hines.
“Two quarters are a little bit later in the week. In fact it’s one big game but it’s separated by six days. The things you have in your head that you could have done or should have done or didn’t do, they are still pretty fresh in you mind.”
Jamie Heaslip and Leo Cullen couldn’t agree more and if a natural flux plays any part in this two-act play, Leinster will grasp the opportunity even more voraciously this week.
Not often does a side earn a second opportunity to straighten out a badly-kinked pool table. Hines spent enough time around the RDS to know that.