YOU could forgive a player if, after five months out of action, he looked more than a little rusty on his return. On Friday night, however, Hamish Watson was in no need of such forgiveness, playing with a great deal of his accustomed dynamism in Edinburgh’s 10-12 defeat by Bath.
Granted, the Scotland openside knew before the game at Meggetland that he was only likely to play the first 40 minutes, and so could throw himself full-pelt into the action without worrying about lasting the pace. Even so, it was a highly encouraging return to competition following that long spell on the sidelines because of shoulder surgery – although Watson himself insisted that for a friendly it had been a fairly gruelling reintroduction to action.
“This is the freshest I’ve felt coming into a season for a while,” the 26-year-old said after the match. “It’s also the first full pre-season I’ve done for a while. I want to say it was pretty good, but it was pretty horrible.
“It was great to get back out there, having not played since the last Six Nations game against Italy. It was a good test for my shoulder, my first 40 minutes back, and I felt good.
“There were a lot of tackles to make in that first 20 to 25 minutes. It was pretty tough. They kept the ball really well – they’re quite a typical Premiership team in that way, going round the corner, sending the big forwards round.
“I was only ever going to play 40 minutes – all week we’d be prepping with two teams. It might be different on Friday against Newcastle.”
Back row competition
Although John Barclay is not expected back until the New Year because of Achilles damage, the back row will be among the most competitive areas of the Edinburgh squad – something Watson welcomes. “Obviously we were nowhere near the finished product last year. We’ve a lot of work to do as a team, but we’ve definitely strengthened the squad with the players we’ve brought in.
“There are a lot of back-row forwards around. It’s good, though, because we have a lot of strength in depth. Jamie Ritchie got capped in the summer, Luke Hamilton got a few more as well, so a lot of us have got a chance of playing for Scotland too.
“It was important that we strengthened and made it quite a big back row, because there could be a few of us going away with Scotland stuff. Strength in depth is going to be huge this year, especially with the Champions Cup.”
Mason plies his craft
In the second half, Watson’s place at openside went to trialist Mungo Mason, who has played professionally in the USA after being born in Scotland and raised in New Zealand. Although no final decision has been taken, Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill expects the former San Diego Legion player will stay in this country. “He’s been on trial with us along with Jack Stanley, who’s a prop from the south-west,” Cockerill said.
“Mungo was born in Glasgow, raised in New Zealand and recently educated in America. So he’s an intelligent Scotsman. He’ll stay within the union, but it may not be with us full-time. There could be an opportunity with the Sevens – we’ll see. He made his debut, and he’s a Scottish-qualified player with a lot of potential.”