HAMISH WATSON made his Scotland debut against Italy just under five years ago, during the 2015 Six Nations championship in which the team ended up with the wooden-spoon having not won a single game.
He came off the bench with about half an hour to play in place of Johnnie Beattie with Scotland 16-15 ahead, and ended up being yellow-carded with 30 seconds left on the clock for collapsing a maul which was motoring hard towards the Scottish line. Referee George Clancy also awarded the penalty try which gave the visitors a 19-22 victory. It was the last time the Azzurri won a match in the championship.
“It’s a lovely stat so thanks for mentioning it,” chuckled Watson, when he was reminded of the occasion last week. “It was actually an alright debut apart from that moment, but people always remember that moment.”
Fortunately, the tearaway flanker is not the sort of character who will expend valuable energy worrying about incidents in his rear-view mirror. There is always another battle in front to prepare for, and as this year’s Italian encounter looms over the horizon, he points out that a lot has changed in five short years.
“If this was my second cap then I’d probably be thinking about that game but it’s long gone,” he shrugs. “It was a long time ago and we were in a bad place during that Six Nations.”
The inference is that Scotland are not in a bad place in this Six Nations, despite having lost their opening two games and being deprived of the talents of star stand-off Finn Russell, who walked out of camp two weeks before the championship got under way, and now appears to be caught in a Mexican stand-off with head coach Gregor Townsend.
Watson has a point. Scotland were well in the game against both Ireland and England, and those are not matches they have any right to expect to win. The team has played with spirit, and if certain aspects of their performance have not been up to scratch [notably breakdown and composure in the opposition 22 versus Ireland and line-out versus England], then other areas [such as defence and general game shape] have exceeded external expectations.
“We are all under pressure but even if we had won our opening two games then we’d still be under a massive amount of pressure going to Italy,” says Watson.
“It’s always a game that’s tough and we know it’s a game that they target as well. They started slowly against Wales, but we know how hard it is playing against the Welsh away from home. It’s going to be a massive contest against a side who looked a lot better against France.
“We are all professional rugby players and it’s about how you handle it [pressure]. This is a massive game and one where we can get ourselves back on track. If we can get the win in Italy then our tournament is right back on track.”
Scotland have not lost to Italy in seven meeting since that fateful day in 2015, but in the aftermath of their World Cup flop and the Russell-affair this match is far more problematic and potentially damaging if it doesn’t go the right way than any of those previous encounters.
“We are a close-knit group and we are doing well off the field,” concluded Watson. “It’s a matter of time before we get a few performances.”