Hamish Watson: Edinburgh 'don't have to get psyched up for Glasgow'

Hamish Watson
Hamish Watson has made five appearances for Scotland
1872 Cup: Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors
Date: Monday, 26 December Venue: Murrayfield Kick-off: 16:05 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Two Scotland, BBC Radio Scotland & BBC Sport website

A poignant routine unfolds after each home Scotland international that Hamish Watson is learning to savour.

An hour or two after the action subsides and Murrayfield falls silent, the players file out to greet supporters queuing in the shadows of the towering west stand.

A throng of youngsters draped in Saltires, cheeks caked with face paint, necks craned over the barrier fence awaiting the emergence of their heroes, confronts them.

For Watson, the penning of signatures and distributing of kit bears particular significance. A decade ago, it might have been him at the heart of the clamour.

"Me and my brother always used to queue up for autographs after the games," the flanker recalls.

"It's quite funny now me coming out and chucking my socks to them. I always try and give my shorts and socks away because I remember how much I loved it when I got a pair after a game.

"I think on one occasion I got Dan Parks' and a few others. When we were kids it was so exciting to get autographs, so I always try and give stuff away."

'I'm not one to throw up'

Watson may be 25, but he's still a kid himself in international terms, a fledgling of five caps, two of them as substitute.

Hamish Watson in action against Australia
Hamish Watson made his first international start against Australia in November

His, however, was a deeply compelling autumn. He played every minute of Scotland's trio of Tests, battling blow-for-blow on the open-side flank with Australian titans David Pocock and Michael Hooper, the livewire Argentine Pablo Matera, then the hulking totem of Georgian rugby, Mamuka Gorgodze.

"It was amazing, it was great to get a run of games and actually start a few back-to-back," he says.

"You're coming up against internationals every week for your club, but you're only playing four or five of them.

"Against a whole team of them, the main thing you notice is it's a lot quicker and a bit more physical, so you've got to get all your carries perfect and roles right.

"The nerves before that first start against Australia in front of a packed Murrayfield were pretty massive - I still get nervous for Edinburgh games, so I don't think that'll ever go away, but I'm not one to throw up."

'We've got to find a good equilibrium'

Watson was born in Manchester, but is eligible for Scotland through his grandparents. He attended Oakham School near Leicester, from where he would hop in a taxi after class and ride 40 minutes to Scottish Exiles training in Nottingham.

His teenage toil yielded a coveted berth in Leicester Tigers' academy, then a jaunt on the World Sevens Series with Scotland, and finally, an elite development contract in the nation's capital.

In his six seasons riding the maddening Edinburgh rugby rollercoaster, Watson has played under three head coaches, and wildly contrasting strategies.

Duncan Hodge
Duncan Hodge took over from Alan Solomons as Edinburgh's interim head coach in September

He signed amid the borderline kamikaze attacking days of Michael Bradley, grafted through the rigid era of Alan Solomons, while interim head coach Duncan Hodge is now trying to forge a successful marriage of the two.

"Under 'Bradders' our attack was amazing, everyone knew Edinburgh could score 50-plus points, but our defence was dreadful," Watson says. "Alan came in, consolidated Edinburgh, made them a solid mid-table team and very hard to beat at home.

"We were known for having an amazing set-piece, but maybe lacked in scoring tries. Now, our attack's looking very good, our defence is good, but we're sometimes a bit off-it. We've got to find a good equilibrium.

"I think Hodgey's given the boys slightly more freedom in attack, more freedom to push those offloads, which has helped.

"We've scored quite a lot of tries off the back of that. The attack, we're playing at a higher tempo, he's tried to change training up a bit, and he's an attack coach, so he's brought lots of his styles from Scotland. It's given him a bit more freedom to push through his attack."

'We haven't given an 80-minute performance this season'

Edinburgh's form this season, however, is enough to drive the most placid of supporters to the brink of insanity. In October, they beat Harlequins, then lost to Zebre. They beat Ulster, then lost to Dragons.

A fortnight ago, they trailed Stade Francais by 17 points at half-time, had Phil Burleigh sent off, and yet salvaged victory in pulsating fashion. Last week, they were 23 points down to Stade at half-time and only just failed to repeat those heroics.

Hamish Watson scores for Edinburgh
Watson scored a brilliant counter-attack try as Edinburgh beat Harlequins in October

For too many seasons, Edinburgh have festered like this. So much fleeting promise; so little tangible success. One step forward, two back. There can be few teams who persistently torment their fans in such fashion.

"It's not just the fans, it's massively frustrating as a player as well, and it's hard to put your finger on it," Watson says.

"We still haven't given an 80-minute performance this season. Even against Quins, we were amazing, we won the game, but we let them come back into it, and the same against Ulster, we had a late scare.

"I think that'll come - we're quite a young squad, so every game these young players are getting more and more experienced.

"If we manage to keep all of our players, we will be a very strong squad in a few years - it will be a very good squad if we keep our young, exciting players."

Hamish Watson defenders beaten statistics
In his 10 starts for Edinburgh and Scotland this season, Hamish Watson has averaged 3.2 defenders beaten per game

'These are the games you don't have to get psyched up for'

Two of them - back-rower Magnus Bradbury, 21, and 19-year-old full-back Blair Kinghorn - have committed themselves to staying in the capital until 2020 and 2019 respectively, while Watson is keen to extend his own contract beyond the end of the season.

More immediately, he is eager to help Edinburgh cling on to the 1872 Cup - a trophy they have lifted the past two seasons despite their struggles, and the continued good form of rivals Glasgow Warriors.

"We've had the edge the last two years, but these are the games Edinburgh never struggle with," he says. "These are the games you don't have to get psyched up for. It's the ones like Zebre at home, Dragons away, we need to start winning.

"Every game, you always feel you're ready, but maybe mentally you're not quite ready. But those are the games we've got to win, and that's the big difference in the league at the moment."

If Edinburgh are to finally sustain anything like their best form for more than a fleeting burst, the affable breakaway will surely have a few more pairs of socks to dish out come the Six Nations.

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