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Hamilton in balancing act

Balancing club and country commitments is the biggest potential banana skin of a move to France's Top 14, according to Scotland lock Jim Hamilton.

The towering second row is fast warming to life at Montpellier, but warned Britain's elite to think long and hard about a move across The Channel.

The 31-year-old left Gloucester last summer after fielding an offer he simply could not refuse but he said it is a constant challenge to uphold international standards of pace and conditioning while plying your trade in a league obsessed with size and power.

"If you want something completely different, the lifestyle, the rugby, everything - different is the key word - then France is the place to come," Hamilton told Press Association Sport.

"The French are far more relaxed on their conditioning and their structure.

"But the lifestyle, the weather and playing in a different country, these are all great experiences.

"I'd ask the question, what are they looking for initially, and I'd probably go from there. I wouldn't say it's suited to everyone."

Six of Wales' starting line-up to face Italy in the RBS 6 Nations opener this weekend will play their club rugby in France next season.

Ireland's sole "exile" in the words of head coach Joe Schmidt remains Johnny Sexton, after Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Conor Murray rejected lucrative moves to France.

The Irish system protects players against relentless club rugby with little rest time, while England refuse to select overseas-based stars.

Leicester captain Toby Flood will join Toulouse in the summer with his England career is looking to be at an end on 60 caps.

Brothers Steffon and Delon Armitage and World Cup-winner Jonny Wilkinson are out of the selection picture at moneyed Heineken Cup champions Toulon.

Hamilton cannot see a superior English openside flanker than Steffon Armitage, but fully appreciates the RFU's stance on ignoring those playing outside its jurisdiction.

"With the World Cup coming up and a big Six Nations, it would be easy to fall into the trap of a relaxed lifestyle and everything that goes with that," he said.

"But I'm extremely conscious that I've had to make sure I'm doing extra training, that's been important.

"I've made sure I've kept in regular contact with the Scotland set-up, just to stay in the right places at the right times.

"But having been a professional for 10 years you know yourself what you need to be doing.

"As long as you're honest with yourself, regardless of whether you pull out of a session or do something differently, then you can make it work for you.

"When you come to France, if you're a big player on a big salary then you're expected to play, all the time.

"In France they are not massively bothered what guys want to do for England, Wales or Scotland, say.

"They are paying down a lot of money, and the presidents expect guys to play every week.

"It is manageable, but it can be a tough balance.

"England have a bigger pool of players, so I can see their approach.

"On pure form Steffon Armitage should definitely be in that England squad because he is phenomenal.

"But then it's difficult to judge, you just can't have one rule for one and one for another."

Scotland enter the Six Nations a team in transit, with Scott Johnson primed to move from head coach to director of rugby when Vern Cotter arrives from Clermont in the summer.

Hamilton shrugged off the interregnum though, hailing Johnson for changing Scotland's long-term love of the underdog tag.

Scotland open their Six Nations by taking on Ireland in Dublin on Sunday, with Hamilton wary of the challenge ahead.

"The new coaches have brought in an air of confidence, saying: 'You can win this game, why not, of course we can win this game'," said Hamilton.

"That's opposed to, 'we're the underdogs, no one expects us to win'.

"Scotland used to thrive on that, but now we've got to the point where we've got the players and we've got the structures.

"On their day when they get their guys firing up front, Ireland are phenomenal.

"I really felt for them when they lost to New Zealand, because they were the better team.

"You can't normally say that about anyone playing New Zealand so we're well aware of the challenge, what's in front of us.

"But we'll go there with confidence. Why not us?"

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