Hamish Watson: If Scotland can win in Italy our Six Nations is right back on track

Watson’s confident Scots have the edge but will not be making the mistake of underestimating the hosts in Rome, writes Iain Morrison

Hamish Watson believes Scotland need to go to Rome and show they can handle the pressure. Picture: Getty Images
Hamish Watson believes Scotland need to go to Rome and show they can handle the pressure. Picture: Getty Images

Here is a stat to make you question the Six Nations status quo. Just two of Italy’s Six Nations squad that are likely to face Scotland next Saturday have ever tasted victory in Europe’s blue riband event; former Scotland under-20s stand-off Tommaso Allan and midfielder Luca Morisi.

This once-in-a-lifetime, blue moon, black swan victory occurred back in 2015 at Murrayfield. Peter Horne missed a kick to touch, Scotland’s discipline disintegrated and a penalty try at the death earned Italy a victory, their last in the Six Nations.

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The match was memorable for Hamish Watson on several counts. The flanker was sent on to the field on 51 minutes to replace breakaway Johnny Beattie and the little seven was sent off the field on the 80 minute mark having seen yellow, as Scotland struggled to contain Italy’s relentless driving maul.

That 29 minute minute losing cameo was Watson’s first international appearance so he can be forgiven for harbouring mixed feelings about the afternoon.

“It’s a lovely stat so thanks for mentioning it,” he says laughing at the conflicting emotions. “I was yellow carded in that game so that’s another memory. It was in the last minute and it was a team yellow so they just picked the guy who got to his feet last. It was actually an alright debut apart from that moment but people always remember that moment.”

Does that loss still weigh heavily on his mind?

“If this was my second cap then I’d probably be thinking about that game but it’s long gone,” Watson insists. “It was a long time ago and we were in a bad place during that Six Nations. It was my Test debut so I look back fondly on that memory whether we lost or not so it’s not something I think about. If that was my only cap then it’s not something I would look back on with much joy.”

After two recent losses and a forgettable World Cup campaign, Watson concedes that this Scotland squad are under the cosh but insists that pressure comes with the territory and, moreover, they could have won both of their opening matches with a little luck.

He is gearing up for a battle royale in Rome having been there and got the t-shirt two years ago when it took a penalty from Greig Laidlaw’s boot in the 79th minute to snatch what had looked an unlikely win with Scotland trailing 24-12.

“We need to go to Rome and show that we can handle that pressure,” Watson insists. “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.

“You know if you go to Italy and you are underprepared and not up for the challenge then you will get beaten. We’ve had some really tough games in Rome which could have swung either way. The last few games have all probably been with a score, the ones I remember were anyway.

“We know how tough they will be given they haven’t won a game since 2015.

“We will go there and treat them as though they have won every game. We can’t be underprepared against them as that’s when we will lose.”

Scotland (probably) need a win against Italy to avoid the wooden spoon, and not for the first time. The two nations are in lock step together as the “also rans” of the Six Nations Spring meet, the only two teams never to have won the Six Nations. So before we snigger at Italy’s woeful record, it is worth pointing out that Scotland have won three of their five games just three times: 2006, 2017 and 2018.

Nor is it certain that a win in Rome would get Scotland “back on track”, as Watson claims, unless it’s a landslide. A scrappy victory merely delays the change of coach/direction that looks increasingly likely, especially if it is followed by losses against France and Wales.

What is certain is that a loss in Rome would heap the coals on to Gregor Townsend’s head because this Scotland squad is markedly better than Italy’s and, if they play anywhere close to potential, they will win with something to spare.

That probably depends upon their collective state of mind. It is two years since Scotland’s last Six Nations’ win of any note (25-13 against England). The squad has lost key personnel in Jonny Gray and Finn Russell while skipper Stuart Hogg struggles to turn his club form on for Scotland.

Next weekend’s trip to Rome is a big banana skin, an open invitation for the Scots to do their finest Charlie Chaplin impersonation, and Italy will do their best to facilitate this pratfall with their ever-physical threat, especially in the back row which effectively carries three blindside flankers in Jake Polledri, Sebastian Negri and Abraham Steyn, the poor man’s CJ Stander.

Scotland boast a better balance, with Jamie Ritchie offering a lineout option and turnover expertise, Magnus Bradbury is the bruising ball carrier that Scotland have been missing and Watson is carrier, link man and poacher who will hope to fill his boots at the breakdown.

“Jamie had his breakthrough season last year but Maggie was capped a few years ago and it took him a bit longer,” says Watson, the elder statesman at 28.

“Now he has broken through we all know what he can do on the ball. He’s great in the lineout and Jamie’s awesome in the lineout, he’s a big threat.

“It’s important to have that young blood coming in as they are all really ambitious as we all are. It just freshens things up.

“We have lost our first two games but have played pretty decent in both of them. I know it’s an annoying thing to say but we could and maybe should have won both of them. We are a close-knit group and we are doing well off the field. It’s a matter of time before we get a few performances.”

But time, you fancy, may be in short supply.