RWC23: Ireland v Scotland: Hamish Watson makes his case for selection

Flanker scored opening try and his hard carrying early on helped set tone for big win

Hamish Watson opened the scoring for Scotland against Romania in Lille on Saturday night. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Hamish Watson opened the scoring for Scotland against Romania in Lille on Saturday night. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

HAMISH WATSON served notice on Saturday night that he is not ready to give up on being a key member of the Scotland team without a fight. The veteran openside flanker, who has found himself playing second-fiddle to Rory Darge in recent months, scored the first of his team’s 12 tries against overwhelmed Romania, and he was a valuable source of forward momentum with 16 carries – more than any other forward on the park – before being replaced with 15 minutes to go.

Afterwards, Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend acknowledged that the 31-year-old had made a case for inclusion in the match-day squad for next Saturday’s do-or-die clash against Ireland in Paris, when the front-liners who were rested against the (not-so) ‘Mighty Oaks’ will all come back into the mix.

For Watson, it was a relief just to get out there and remind people of what he can do after so long stuck on the periphery.

“It seems like it’s been forever since my last game – I’ve had to wait eight weeks, I think,” he said. “It’s not always easy when you make a lot of changes to the team, but the boys who came in did well. It puts us in a good position for next week.


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“I managed to get myself into some good carrying slots early in the game. It was important just to try and get my hands on the ball early on.”

After missing out on selection to John Hardie for the 2015 tournament at the start of his international career, and then managing just 37 minutes of the first game of the 2019 campaign before suffering a knee injury, Watson has unfinished business at World Cups – and a place in the match-day squad for next weekend would go a long way to filling that gap in his CV.

“It’s just nice to actually play a full part in a game and come off unscathed compared to what happened four years ago,” he added. “It’s been a different role for me in the past few weeks, helping the boys prepare for games. I’m obviously not really used to that, and it has been tough, but I feel like I’ve now at least put myself forward into the conversation about selection. We’ll see what the coaches do. It’s obviously a massive game for us.

“I think it was 2017 the last time we beat Ireland so not many boys in this squad would have been around back then. Credit to them, they’re a good team and really tough to beat, and we’re playing them when they’re at their best as well – they’ve won 16 games in a row and they obviously looked great against South Africa.

“But that’s probably the way we prefer it as underdogs, being written off, and needing to win by eight points or more. This is going to be a really good week leading into a massive game for the whole country.”

 

Huw Jones, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Zander Fagerson and Richie Gray are the only other survivors in the current squad from that 2017 game. Since then, it has been a miserable run of eight defeats on the bounce, with the most painful of those losses undoubtedly being the opening game of the last World Cup, when Watson suffered that knee injury and the team endured a morale-crushing 27-3 reversal on their way to plummeting out of the tournament at the end of the pool phase.

It is a bitter memory, but not relevant to Scotland’s preparation for this week’s showdown, argued Watson.

“There’s a lot of continuity at the moment. We’ve been building really well.  I think the squad as a whole is a lot tighter and in a lot better place.

“I know we say we’re a close-knit group quite a lot, but it is true. Everyone who gets selected doesn’t take it lightly.  It feels like we’ve got some good momentum leading into what’s going to be a massive game for us against the best team in the world.”

Of course, it is not necessarily going to be a straight shoot-out between Watson and Darge for the No 7 jersey.  Captain and blindside flanker Jamie Ritchie suffered a concussion against Tonga eight days ago and will only complete his return-to-play protocols this coming Friday if there are unanticipated hold-ups in his recovery.

The Scotland management team believe he is making good progress, but if Ritchie doesn’t make it then that could open the door for both Watson and Darge being involved in the match-day 23.


That was the month that was: September 2023

About David Barnes 3817 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.

9 Comments

  1. Not really. Pure energy first 20 but petered out bearing in mind the oppo. Impact sub at best now, albeit a fine one at that. Our current back row is under-powered whoever it is, Dempsey aside. Roll the dice and go Dempsey, Skinner and Crosbie. Reps being Fagerson, Ritchie and Darge later on. Game on then.

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  2. Not really. Pure energy first 20 but petered out bearing in mind the oppo. Impact sub at best now, albeit a fine one at that. Our current back row is under-powered whoever it is, Dempsey aside. Roll the dice and go Dempsey, Skinner and Crosbie. Reps being Fagerson, Ritchie and Darge later on. Game on then.

  3. Not really. Pure energy first 20 but petered out bearing in mind the oppo. Impact sub at best now, albeit a fine one at that. Our current back row is under-powered whoever it is, Dempsey aside. Roll the dice and go Dempsey, Skinner and Crosbie. Reps being Fagerson, Ritchie and Darge later on. Game on then.

  4. I don’t think our back row has performed badly, it is very difficult to operate to your full ability when the set piece ( lineout) malfunctions as it did against SA. I was delighted for Hamish Watson on Saturday however we must not forget that teams like Ireland had worked him out before his injury occurred and his effectiveness latterly was reduced. Maybe have him as a sub to bring something different to the game but let’s not forget how well the 4 current back row have performed.

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  5. I have no axe to grind over any particular player and just want to see the best guys out on the park. However our back row has been disappointing in my opinion in the 2 games prior to Romania. The obvious issue with the Romania game is it is very difficult to judge anyone based on the opposition. We were very much second best to SA who were likewise beaten by Ireland at the breakdown and in terms of metres made. I would like to see Watson and Crosbie start against Ireland. I appreciate that is highly unlikely but I would love to see Crosbie put O’Mahoney on his ar.. For those waxing lyrical about Darge, I just havent seen it yet.

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  6. I think some people have overlooked quite how good Rory Darge is. Great to see Watson back to his best and a good case to have him in the squad if there is a 6:2 bench split. Can’t see a case to displace Rory Darge

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  7. I think the Mish has made his case clearly enough. He seemed to be tearing about the park as in days of old and was popping up everywhere both in attack and defence. We need outright aggression against the Irish lads and he may well be the horse for this particular course. I’d also be interested to look into my crystal ball to see whether Redpath is a future starter. Tuipo and Jones have been extremely good together and probably will go into the next game as a pairing. But what happens to the familiarity argument once Finn joins Bath and has Cammy Junior perched on his shoulder game in, game out? Extremely good news fore Scotland supporters. The auxiliary stand-off Toony has always looked for. Whatever happens, it’s great to have such excellent options.

  8. Watson sparkled as of old with his pin ball carrying. Then went quiet before eventually being subbed. The pin ball style means running upright, a gift to Irish choke tackles, which just might be a bit more effective than Romania.
    Crosbie grafted and carried much longer, covers 6 and 7, offers a lineout option.
    Afraid barring another injury even if Richie fails his protocol I wouldn’t. E picking Mish for this one

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  9. Ritchie will play, can’t drop your captain unless he’s playing gash( he has been middling)and he offers a lineout option that Mish and Darge don’t.
    This game will be won in the back row. Irelands Omahoney, VDFlier, Berne and Doris have to be combatted. I would be tempted to do a Rassie and have a complete back row on the bench as well as a front row. Ritchie, Watson, Dempsey for first 50 then Skinner , Darge and Fagerson and make Gray or Gilchrist do the full 80 with George Horne on the bench covering the backs.

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