The last Scot to win the Heineken Cup today tipped Edinburgh as contenders for this season’s honours.
Nathan Hines, back at Murrayfield last weekend for the first time since retiring from international rugby, reflected on his part in Leinster’s success against Northampton in 2011 and insisted there were similar qualities in the Edinburgh team who have qualified to meet Toulouse in an eagerly-awaited quarter-final at home on Saturday, April 7.
Said Hines, who now plays for a Clermont Auvergne side due to face Toulouse this weekend in the French Top 14 competition: “I’ll have a better idea of what Toulouse are about after this weekend having missed the previous match due to the World Cup. But, having seen Edinburgh on television, they have been very exciting.
“The wins over London Irish and Racing Metro, especially in France, are not an easy thing to do.
“Edinburgh are playing with a lot of confidence and scoring tries and it is not hard to see why when you look at the way Lee Jones took his scoring chance for Scotland against France.
“Edinburgh have game-breakers. These are players who, if you give them ball in a little bit of space, will make inroads, especially from counter attacks. Put opponents under pressure and teams like Edinburgh will take advantage of any ball returned to them.”
If, and it is a big if, Edinburgh beat Toulouse, who have won the tournament four times, they would then face the winners of a Munster versus Ulster clash in a semi-final at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium three weeks later.
Hines added: “Edinburgh could be contenders. Obviously, if they can beat Toulouse they can beat anybody.”
Hines, 35, declared his cap innings closed on 77 after this season’s World Cup and insisted the baton had been passed on to good effect, despite Sunday’s 17-23 defeat by France.
“I’ve no regrets. It was a good time for me to finish with international rugby when I did.
“It was about choosing the right time then dealing with the feelings you inevitably get in wanting to get out there and play.
“Every ex-internationalist must go through that, it is always going to be the same.
“Scotland don’t need me any more especially with three good second rows [Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton and Al Kellock] for two spots. It made no difference with me not being there and that’s a good thing that younger players are coming through.
“Not just in my position either as others are now knocking on the door. The retirement of Dan Parks means Greig Laidlaw getting a shot and you can see the enthusiasm in the new lads’ play. Speaking to the French players they were really impressed with Scotland, especially with Hoggy [Stuart Hogg] and the speed of the play.”
French coach Philippe St Andre was magnanimous in his praise of Scotland, suggesting they were capable of beating all-comers and claiming that the key difference might have been the quality of the substitutes’ bench. He said: “I’m sure Scotland will very soon beat a fantastic team because they have some fantastic players.”
And Hines agreed, saying: “Partly because Scotland brought players into the squad, which I think was needed, they found a difference in experience on the bench. St Andre’s remarks were generous but also fair while recognising the newcomers have a long way to go.
“The difference between the teams, for me, was a couple of critical errors and that was frustrating. One turn over and one dropped ball proved crucial.
“Hopefully, when Toulouse come here, the crowd will get behind Edinburgh in the same way as they did Scotland.
“That way, Toulouse could be turned over.”