Italy v Scotland: Hamish Watson dismisses speculation to focus on Nations Cup

Open-side flanker says a huge battle awaits in Florence despite the Azzurri's dimsal recent record

Hamish Watson at training ahead of Scotland's Nations Cup opener against Italy in Florence on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson -
Hamish Watson at training ahead of Scotland's Nations Cup opener against Italy in Florence on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson -

SCOTLAND flanker Hamish Watson has dismissed press speculation over the weekend linking him with a big-money move to Paris to join Finn Russell at Racing 92 when his Edinburgh contract runs out next summer.

“One of the boys mentioned it earlier and that’s the first I’ve heard of it. No, I don’t think so,” he retorted, choosing to focus instead on the task immediately ahead of him, which is helping Scotland to achieve five wins on the bounce for the first time since 2011 by beating Italy in Florence on Saturday.

The Scots are on a high having secured victories over Italy in Rome, France and Georgia at Murrayfield, and Wales in Llanelli in their last four outings, while the Azzurri are coming off the back of their fifth consecutive winless Six Nations, but Watson says it would be foolish to underestimate the challenge his team will face in this weekend’s Nations Cup opener – adding that the battle between the back-rows likely to be a particularly ferocious sub-plot.

Jake Polledri, Sebastian Negri and Braam Steyn … they are big guys, big ball-carriers and it is one of the strongest parts of Italy’s game,” he says. “It was the same when we played them in the Six Nations. We know the back-row battle is going to be key and we will be trying to keep those boys at bay because they are all top-quality players.

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“Italy are one of those teams that can lose against Ireland and then come back and play some really good stuff against England. They will probably be even better this weekend and they always have a good, tough game against us. They are always really good at home and we will have to perform at our best if we want to beat them. We want to keep our winning streak going.

“We haven’t gone on many big winning streaks in the past and I think we have got a good chance to do that now because we have a tough away game, followed by two at home [against France and Fiji] and our record at Murrayfield is good. We want to top the group.”

Italy’s back-row may be a strength, but Scotland are in pretty good shape there as well at the moment, particularly on the flanks where Watson has forged a formidable partnership with Jamie Ritchie – who has developed within the last year to become one of the leading No6s in European rugby.

The No8 position is still up for grabs, but Watson and Ritchie’s pace around the park, abrasiveness in the contact area, willingness to both carry with conviction and offload with intelligence, and relentless energy over the full 80-minutes of every match, has left a number of highly-rated opponents looking distinctly ordinary.

“I’m there with Jamie at training every day and I see how hard he trains and how hard he works, so it’s not hard for me to believe how well he’s doing,” says Watson. “Full credit to him – he’s playing really well at the moment and I enjoy playing with him in the back-row.

“He is a young lad but he is one of the leaders of this team now. Who knows – he may be a future Scotland captain – he just has to keep his head down, keep working and who knows what he will achieve!”

Both players are now firmly in the frame as not only possible Lions tourists next year but genuine contenders for the Test team. Watson says he is flattered by the speculation but is not reading too much into it at this stage.

“I don’t think it brings any extra pressure,” he says. “A lot of people get spoken about for the Lions and get nowhere near it at all. I just have to keep performing for Scotland and when I go back to my club I’ll have to keep performing there as well.

“I imagine a lot will ride on what happens in the 2021 Six Nations. There is still a lot of rugby to be played and you can play yourself out of contention very quickly. All it takes is a few bad games, so let’s just see what happens.”

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About David Barnes 3911 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

1 Comment

  1. I hope he does go. It benefits Scotland to have players playing at the sharp end of European tournaments and allows progression for other players at Edinburgh, as well as freeing up budget to invest elsewhere in the squad.

    Edinburgh have Luke Crosbie as a ready made replacement and plenty of depth in the backrow. So in balance it would be better for Watson, Scotland and emerging Scottish players.

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