Edinburgh v Zebre game far from elementary, says Watson

Edinburgh's Hamish Watson speaks to the media. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU
Edinburgh's Hamish Watson speaks to the media. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU
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In his seven years at Edinburgh Rugby, openside flanker Hamish Watson has already had five coaches. He started out under Michael Bradley, who brings his Zebre team to Myreside on Friday, then Duncan Hodge and Stevie Scott were given the job on an interim basis. Alan Solomons arrived and left the club mid-season, just as Bradley had done. Hodge, again, was handed the reins before Richard Cockerill took on what is widely recognised as a poisoned chalice.

If he can turn Edinburgh Rugby around then his reputation will be secured (or so Andy Robinson imagined) but, after all the changes at the top, can a foot soldier like Watson see an up tick in Edinburgh’s fortunes under the new management?

“It’s tough,” he replies. “Treviso, it was a bit of a backward step for us but if you forget about that Treviso game we’ve had two very tough, on-the-road games which, even if you were flying and had won your first ten games, are very tough games to go to.

“Scarlets are champions and Leinster are always very tough. Obviously we got a red card at Scarlets, which made it very hard for ourselves but before that we were playing really well and doing some good things.

“At Leinster we were obviously in the game until the very end and we could have won that game. We might not have been in that fight that long in the last few seasons.

“I think we just need to get our mindset right because we go to Leinster and put in a performance like that but we couldn’t quite beat Treviso at home. So I think it has been a fairly decent start to the season. If we get a good win this weekend that will put us back on track.”

With two wins to their credit Zebre are not the bottom feeders in the Pro14 – that dubious honour falls to the Southern Kings. Zebre even inflicted the first defeat of the season on Ulster, just one of a good many shocks to the Pro14 
system so far this season.

Elsewhere, Cardiff lost to Edinburgh on their own park on the opening weekend butbeat Connacht in Galway. Irish coach Bernard Jackman’s unfancied Dragons also bested the team who won the league just 16 months ago. Benetton beat Edinburgh on the road and the Ospreys in Italy. Zebre beat the Kings and Ulster while Leinster were brought down to earth by the Cheetahs.

Pretty much everyone has something to shout about apart from the Kings ,who are in danger of going the same way as Monarch Airlines in what has been a bad week for rulers the world over.

Has there been a rise in the overall standard of the league or is it just that a few of the former favourites are in a transition phase?

“I think it could be a bit of both,” replied Watson.

“There are maybe a few teams having a bit of a transition period, a few new players in but, as a whole, 
I think that the league is improving.

“It’s getting a lot more competitive and those Italian teams, we always knew they could pull out those one-off results but they are doing it on a more consistent basis. I think the league is becoming a lot tougher.”

Once bitten, twice shy as Ospreys hooker Scott Baldwin is probably thinking to himself right now and Edinburgh’s loss to Benetton early in the season suggests that there will be no complacency when Zebre arrive at Myreside on Friday evening. Bradley, left, has the Italians attacking from their own 22 and so far the tactic has paid dividends although throwing the ball about deep inside your own red zone is a risky 
business against an aggressive defence.

“I think it’s quite a tough game for us,” says the flanker. “In the past Zebre at home, normally you think if you turn up you’ll get the win but this season it’s a bit different. The league is very competitive at the moment, they have two very good wins, they are attacking very well and they play from anywhere.

“It’s probably one of the best things they do, attack teams from everywhere, they can catch teams by surprise but on the flip side you can put a lot of pressure on them if they are chucking the ball around in their half.

“I think the last few games they have been playing a lot of rugby and scoring a lot of tries but I think that if our defence can get on top of them, bring that line speed, if they want to play in their own half that’s great, it’s up to our defence to put the pressure on them and to try and get the ball back.

“It’s a must win game already to get our season back on track.”