Hamish Watson hails return of John Hardie after three-month suspension

Scotland flanker Hamish Watson has welcomed the return from suspension of his great club and country openside rival John Hardie, believing the renewal of their competition for the No 7 jersey will benefit his game.

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Hardie is available for selection again after a three-month ban for “gross misconduct”, over alleged cocaine abuse, following an internal investigation. He is unlikely to go straight back into the Edinburgh squad for Saturday’s European Challenge Cup match against Stade Francais, with a Hawick club game more likely, and was not included in Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad on Tuesday.

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Watson has moved ahead of the New Zealand-born 29-year-old in the openside pecking order but knows that when he returns from Scotland duty it will be back to battling Hardie for club selection.

John Hardie was suspended over alleged cocaine abuse. Picture: Ian Rutherford

“He’s been great,” said Watson of his team-mate. “He’s a popular guy in the squad and came back in after a few months out and fitted in really well. He’s training well. For any pro player after a bit of time off it’s important get back in training and get your head down.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations with the press in the past about me having Hards around and vice versa, you push off each other.

“You need to have depth in the squad and not be comfortable, thinking that you’re going to be starting every week, because that’s when your performances drop off.”

It would be no surprise if Watson is given a weekend off and skips the trip to Paris ahead of joining the Scotland camp after Edinburgh wrapped up Pool 3 and a home quarter-final with last Friday’s 34-33 win over Stade Francais at BT Murrayfield.

John Hardie was suspended over alleged cocaine abuse. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Watson would have no qualms if he was picked by coach Richard Cockerill, though, and feel no trepidation about risking injury so close to the Six Nations.

“I’m not sure [if I’ll be playing]. Obviously I’ll train and see what Cockers wants to do with selection,” said the 26-year-old.

“You play any game of rugby there is a chance of picking up a knock or getting injured, that’s just part of it. It might be in the back of your head being a week out from the Six Nations but if you go into a game thinking you’re going to get a knock that’s when you’re going to hurt yourself.

“So you have to approach every game the same, that’s our mentality and we’ve already spoke this week about getting another win and backing up last Friday.”

Watson is looking forward to switching back to international mode and looking to add his dynamism to the fast-tempo Gregor Townsend gameplan.

“[Forwards coach] Dan [McFarland] has given me a phonecall and he watches every game, he’ll have been calling round all the boys.

“If they’re ringing you up they clearly want to tell you something important so maybe it’s best if they’re not calling as then you’re doing something right. But no, the Scotland coaches are really good at keeping in contact and making sure you know you’re in their thoughts and you’re working on stuff.

“[The high-tempo style] definitely suits my game and most of the Scottish rugby players. We all want to play at that tempo and you saw how it worked in the summer and the autumn. i think Gregor is doing a great job and hopefully in the Six Nations we can keep that high tempo going because when you’re playing that quick ruck ball it’s very hard for other teams to defend against.”