Nick Haining admits that he had mixed emotions last Friday night whilst watching Bristol Bears defeat Toulon 32-19 in the Final of the European Challenge Cup. Having spent two seasons playing for the English West Country club before moving to Edinburgh last summer, there was a definite sense of missing out on a special occasion which he had played a role in building towards – but the fact that he was viewing the game from the Scotland training camp provided reassurance that he has also moved on to better things.
“It’s always a little bittersweet,” conceded the No8, who is expected to pick-up his fourth Scotland cap against Georgia on Friday night. “You wouldn’t mind being there but obviously my attentions have turned to Edinburgh and the international circuit here. Having said that, they’re enjoyable to watch and they’ll always have a bit of a place in my heart. It’s good to see them doing well.”
“It’s been a heck of a season for them,” he added. “I watched the Premiership semi-final against Wasps not too long ago and I think they would have been a bit disappointed with that, but they obviously came out firing at the weekend with a try in the first 15 seconds.
“It’s the brand of rugby Pat Lam wants to play and it’s exciting. Watching them is really enjoyable and I’ve been following them closely. I’m really happy for them.”
Australian-born Haining spent his first season at Bristol helping them gain promotion from the Championship and the second helping them consolidate their place in the Premiership, before signing for Edinburgh ahead of the start of the 2019-20 season. He was initially viewed as a back-up recruitment to provide cover during the World Cup and Six Nations windows, when Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury and Bill Mata were likely to be away for some or all of the time.
However, he exceeded expectations with a series of powerful performances for Richard Cockerill’s side to push his way into Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad in January, and after a highly promising debut in Scotland’s Championship opener against Ireland, he went on to pick up further caps against England and France.
“It has been brilliant, everyone has welcomed me in with open arms and it has been easy to transition into this group,” said Haining. “At first it was a bit nerve-wracking being in the international environment, but it has been quite an easy transition due to the group here.”
Now he is determined to push-on and really make the No8 jersey his own. Clubmate Magnus Bradbury – who was his chief rival for the spot earlier in the year – did not make the cut for this Autumn’s squad, but the competition is still intense with Blade Thomson having been called back into the set-up to join Matt Fagerson and Cornell du Preez in challenging Haining for a starting berth in the middle of the back-row.
“There’s a lot of competition in the back-row at the moment so we are helping each other through the weeks,” insisted Haining. “There's a lot to take on board. I have the advantage of being here previously during the Six Nations so there are some similar things we have carried on into this tournament. We’re just helping each other out and working through it but there’s still a lot of competition and it has been pretty intense in training.
“Everything has moved really seamlessly with the schedule. It’s all been set up really well and we’re just ripping in now.”
“It was an abrupt end to our Six Nations campaign and everyone had to adapt to new circumstances, the staff included, and everyone is champing at the bit now and raring to go – you can see that in our training.
“We all want to continue where we left off against France when we take on Georgia and Wales,” he added.
Focussing on the immediate task ahead, Haining stressed that Scotland will not underestimate the size of the challenge they face on Friday night – despite having dismantled the Eastern Europeans 36-9 the last time the two sides met just before flying out to the 2019 World Cup.
“We know Georgia are going to have a big pack and some dynamic backs as well,” he said. “We just want to get our stuff right. With the game-plan we’ve put in place, we’ve already hit the ground running and we have no doubt that will roll us into the game, then it is about building that momentum towards winning all these games throughout the autumn, right through to the final [on 5th December].”