HAMISH WATSON checked in at Edinburgh Airport with his team-mates yesterday lunchtime to fly down to Cardiff to take on Wales tomorrow in the first of Scotland’s four Autumn Tests, and vowed that the national side will return home on Sunday having exorcised the demon of a humiliating 34-7 defeat the last time they visited the Principality Stadium.
Scotland entered last season’s Six Nations on a wave of optimism after a highly promisng November schedule, but it all came crashing down around their ears in round one of the championship when Warren Gatland’s side came flying out the blocks and ruthlessly exploited the Gregor Townsend’s team’s inaccuracies playing a high risk brand of rugby.
“There has been a bit of a mention about what happened in the Six Nations,” said the 20-times capped flanker. “We obviously need a much better performance than that in Wales [this time]. It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere and it is always a tough place to go. We’re looking forward to the challenge.
“It is no different when it comes to kick-off time. The year before, we beat them, so it’s not as if they’ve beaten us in loads of games consecutively.
“It might play a tiny factor, if that was the case. But it’s not [the case]. So, we’re not dwelling on it, not letting it get in our heads too much.”
Scotland have not won in Cardiff since 2002, meaning they have come away empty on each of their last nine visits – but Watson was clearly keen to play down the idea that the steep stands, retractable roof [which will cover the pitch on Saturday] and generally claustrophobic atmosphere makes the Principality Stadium a particularly hard place to perform well and win.
“What makes going to Cardiff so tough? I think any away game is tough these days – you saw that with the results in the Six Nations,” he said. “Every team is struggling a bit more away from home now.Teams really want to perform for their home crowd, so it’s a challenge that we need to overcome.
“Obviously, we want to do that – and attribute the win to Doddie,” he added, referring to the fact that this match is for the Doddie Weir Cup, which has been donated by the Welsh Rugby Union as part of a day of tribute to the former Scotland lock who is fighting a brave battle against Motor Neuron Disease.
“They like the roof shut for the atmosphere,” Watson continued. “We’ve got to be ready for that atmosphere. It’s slightly different in that it’s just that bit louder, so we have to be much clearer with our calls when they’re getting fed in, making sure everyone understands.It does make a difference, having that roof closed.
“Obviously, it’s the first international of the season, a few of us haven’t played [for Scotland] since the Six Nations, having not gone on tour, so we’ve got to blow off the cobwebs and start the season well.
“This is a massive year for Scottish rugby, with 14 test matches before the start of the actual World Cup. It’s important that we start well and have a really good autumn series. The World Cup is still a way away, we’ve got to concentrate on the here and now.
“For us, that’s these four autumn games, then it’s the Six Nations – and after that our attention can turn to the World Cup.
“I think it’s good having four games. We only had a week-long camp last week, so by the end of it we’ll really know our game plan. It’s good to help build momentum.”