SCOTLAND’s last outing in the Six Nations saw them claim a rare win in Wales – a result that confirmed the progress made during the 2020 Championship, even if they did still only finish fourth. In order to build on that progress this year, according to Hamish Watson, they need to start winning more regularly on the road and ensure that the 14-11 victory in Llanelli does not go down as an isolated event.
Historically, Scotland’s best performances, including all three of their Grand Slam campaigns, have tended to come in even years when they face England and France at home. So if they are to do something exceptional this year, they will have to buck a trend that has been evident since the early days of the tournament. But Watson is in no doubt that it is a necessary next step for his team, starting of course on Saturday, when they visit Twickenham, a ground where they have not won since 1983.
“To become one of the top teams in the world you’ve got to start winning your away games, and that’s the challenge for us,” the Edinburgh openside said. “We’ve got three home games this year and two away games. I think we’ve seen in the last few years, and not just with Scotland, that teams struggle to get away wins.
“We obviously got one in Wales in the Six Nations game in the autumn, but we know that if we want to progress from three wins you’re going to have to pick up an away win, which is historically quite a hard thing to do in the Six Nations. We’ve got two of the in-form teams in rugby, with France and England away, so it’s a great opportunity to try to build on those three wins, which we’ve done in three of the last campaigns out of four.
“I think that was a massive win for us away in Wales. It was at Parc y Scarlets, which was slightly different for the Welsh boys, but nevertheless it was great in a country where we haven’t won for a long time, and I think that does give us a slight extra boost.
“But we now need to back that up. It’s all about backing up one good performance with another in international rugby.
“[Saturday] is a huge opportunity to go down there and put in a great performance, but we know how good a side England are – they’re one of the in-form teams. We know it’s going to be a real tough challenge, even if they have a few problems with a few players missing. England have got great depth in that squad, so it’s going to be a really, really tough game.”
Scotland’s last two matches at Twickenham certainly come into the “really tough” category, albeit in different ways. There was barely a redeeming factor in the 61-21 humiliation of 2017, while two years ago almost all of the pain came in the first, dismal half-hour or so before the rest of the match offered some euphoric anaesthetic.
Watson believes that the second half in 2019 is a positive template in the sense that it shows how well Scotland can play, but by the same token he regards the 2017 match as an ominous reminder of how quickly things can go awry if the team fail to get off to a solid start. “It’s good having that  game and knowing how well we performed in the second half – and knowing that we can do that against a team like England away from home,” he continued.
“It’s definitely a confidence-booster, but then again I was involved in the 2017 game as well, so we know we have to be on it, and compared to both of those games, we are going to have to start well. That makes it a lot easier to stay in the game and gives you the best chance of winning. Against these good teams you have to start really well.
“In any international game you’ve got to come with that extra bit of focus, whether that’s controlling the first 20 minutes of the game and maybe not playing as loosely. It’s a bit to do with mindset – we’ve got to hit the ground running.
“When we’ve gone to Twickenham the last two times we’ve definitely not done that. In 2017 it was a yellow card (for Fraser Brown) that didn’t help, but in 2019 there was no excuse, it was just a slow start and we put ourselves in a dreadful position. Then it becomes really hard to overturn that deficit. I think it’s down to control, to be honest. You’ve got to go down there and try to control the first 20 minutes of the game.”
The 38-38 draw of two years ago tends to be fondly remembered by many people because of the character and audacity Scotland showed in fighting back from an apparently impossible position. But for all that Watson appreciates its positive aspects, he also sees it as an example of the team failing to close out the game when the chance of victory was there – a failing which, of course, they will need to avoid on Saturday if they are to fulfil his ambition of claiming another positive result on the road.
“It was such a weird game with all the emotions which only sport can deliver,” he recalled. “There’s no other thing that makes you feel like that: the ups and downs are one of the great things about sport.
“At the end of the day, I think we felt hard done by, which I know seems a ridiculous thing to say when you were 31-0 down. But to get into the position where you’re winning the game 38-31 and that close to winning at Twickenham for the first time in a decent while, only to end up drawing – it was nuts.
“It was probably a game we didn’t deserve to win, if we’re being honest, with the way we played in the first half. But when you put yourself in a position to win the game like that, it was pretty gutting when you don’t manage to get over the line.”