Hamish where the heart is
The history books will state that in 2019, Hamish Watson played at Rugby World Cup. That fact is indisputable, but the Edinburgh flanker’s Japanese adventure lasted a mere 37 minutes as he succumbed to a first-half knee injury against Ireland in Scotland’s Pool A opener in Yokohama.
It was a premature and distressing end to what should have been a career highlight but to Watson’s relief, the injury sustained fell on the positive end of the recovery spectrum. He recovered to play for Edinburgh in little over nine weeks to take his place in Scotland’s Guinness Six Nations squad and appreciates more than ever the fragile nature of professional sport.
“It was completely gutting to miss the World Cup and the way it happened obviously in the first half of the opening game, but I got a week off when I came home and getting back into Edinburgh when they were doing so well was quite nice,” he said.
“Just to be able to switch my focus to that was good and obviously I still watched the games [in Japan] and supported the boys, but for it me it was just concentrating on getting back and fit for Edinburgh and playing well and now my focus changes to Scotland stuff.”
Now 28, Watson knows that life in international rugby is precious ahead of a fourth full Six Nations campaign. After missing out in the Far East, that notion has never been more distinct as he added: “It’s mentioned the whole time that you never own the jersey no matter how many caps you have; no matter how many times you’ve played, it’s never yours and you’re just looking after it for the next person to come. That’s more obvious when you get injured and when I was actually thinking the worst that’s when it rung home even more that you need to cherish every opportunity you get to wear that jersey.”
‘Mish’ is grateful for having his family to help numb the literal pain of World Cup departure and in having a young daughter, any time to feel sorry for himself post-Japan was minimal, as he explained: “If that was four or five years ago and I had got sent home [during the World Cup] I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself, so it was so nice in a way coming home and getting looked after by my wife and my daughter.
“It was a silver lining and makes you realise that although how important rugby is and how you cherish every moment, it isn’t the be-all and end-all which I probably thought when I was a bit younger.
“I think actually having something outside of rugby and changing your focus as soon as you leave the training field or after the game is finished is actually, I think, better for you. It helps you refocus when you need to and it helps you switch off as well which can help make you a better rugby player overall – as long as you know how to switch back on when you need to.
“Now, you come back to your daughter and she’s only 16 months so she doesn’t care that you’ve just got injured! She’s exactly the same and will need her nappy changed and wants looking after so it does make you realise that there are also more important things in life.”
Indeed there are but come 4:45pm on Saturday, few will argue anything is more important than the fire and brimstone of a live Calcutta Cup encounter in front of a capacity BT Murrayfield. It’s a fixture he has previous experience of having won, drawn and lost in the three times he has lined up opposite the Auld Enemy.
Watson featured in the famous 2018 incarnation of this great fixture, operating in a back-row that included John Barclay, Ryan Wilson and David Denton – players that are now retired or not featuring in the current set-up.
When the teams drew 38-38 in last year’s Twickenham swashbuckler, he counted Sam Skinner and Magnus Bradbury among his peers, demonstrating Scotland’s real strength in depth in a very competitive area.
Add in fellow youngsters Jamie Ritchie and Luke Crosbie, as well as a raft of other talent, and Scotland are as well stocked in the back-row department as ever before. Watson added: “it’s a bit scary when you see Dents and Barcs retiring, but then one look in training and you see the guys coming through.
“We created great memories, particularly in 2018, but it’s important for us now that we try to recreate them more often. Do be able to do that for the players, coaches, fans and everyone behind the scenes makes you hungry to keep putting in those performances.”