Nick Haining hopes strong Edinburgh performances will aid his Scotland chances

There will only be 700 fans inside Murrayfield’s cavernous bowl on Friday night but Edinburgh’s Nick Haining will be making sure the one set of eyes he does not latch onto are those of Gregor Townsend.

The big number eight was a surprise pick earlier this year when the Scotland coach named his squad for the Guinness Six Nations squad.

He raised even more eyebrows when Haining went on to start against Ireland and France at the expense of Cornell Du Preez and Magnus Bradbury.

However, Australia-born back-rower Haining fears it will be back to square one in his pursuit of international honours after five months of lockdown.

Part two of Edinburgh’s double-header with Glasgow on Friday night – also doubling as Scotland’s first test event for the reintroduction of spectators to major sporting events – will therefore present the perfect chance to show he has lost none of the form that propelled him into the Dark Blues reckoning before Covid-19 struck.

But Haining admits keeping club boss Richard Cockerill happy is pressure enough without knowing Townsend will also be in attendance to put his display under the microscope.

“To be honest, I try not to think about (Townsend sitting in the stand),” said the forward, who qualifies for Scotland on account of his Dundonian grandmother.

“There is always an added pressure on you knowing the international selectors are there watching you, scrutinising your game.

“But Edinburgh is my sole focus. I also have Richard Cockerill watching as well and I’m trying to keep my place week by week in Edinburgh. If I’m focusing on that then everything else should take care of itself.

“Things had gone really well in the international scene for myself earlier this year. It was a surprise because I had only just come in to the squad.

Haining was a surprise starter for Scotland in the Guinness Six Nations before the coronavirus pandemic
Haining was a surprise starter for Scotland in the Guinness Six Nations before the coronavirus pandemic (Niall Carson/PA)

“It was a learning process all through the Six Nations. I only got five minutes off the bench in the second game against England but building into the tournament I got more comfortable with it.

“I was really happy with my performances. There was a lot to work on and I think that will get better as time goes on and get more experience. It was a really enjoyable experience and something I hope to build on in the future.

“I’m just thankful to be back into games now. We’ve got a good build-up to the next internationals and hopefully I do get selected again to be in the squad. But we have some big club games coming up, games where you can really put your hand up, so that’s the focus at the moment.

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“If those performances take care of themselves then hopefully things will go all right in the way of getting selected internationally.”

Boosting Edinburgh’s Guinness PRO14 title chances by securing a home semi-final would certainly put his name firmly into the mix for October’s delayed Six Nations finale in Wales.

Last weekend’s 30-15 derby win over Glasgow secured a play-off slot against Ulster and a repeat display will ensure they welcome former Scotland coach Dan McFarland back to Murrayfield next week.

Haining – who will replace Bill Mata as one of 10 changes in Cockerill’s starting XV for the rematch with Warriors – said: “We knew the first game was going to be a bit clunky at times, and it was. But we really want to build on that performance that we had last week and take that into this game.”

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