On Saturday in Salta, Watson will win his 50th cap, a landmark occasion that will cement his standing as one of Scotland’s greats.
Reflecting on the milestone ahead of Scotland’s second Test against Argentina, the Edinburgh flanker admitted the prospect of hitting a half-century couldn’t have been further from his thoughts after his first appearance.
Watson made his bow as a replacement for Johnnie Beattie in the 50th minute of the 2015 Six Nations clash with Italy at Murrayfield. The occasion is now best remembered for being the Italians’ last win in the championship until this season’s victory over Wales in Cardiff. And it ended on a doubly sour note for Watson who was shown a yellow card and then had to wait over a year for his second cap.
“To be fair, it wasn’t a great game for the country, but if I was naming my highlights of Scotland games it would still be up there,” he said of his debut. “Like anybody, getting your first cap for your country is a massive honour, and if it had all ended on one cap I would still be immensely proud of that day.
“It is a weird one. Maybe I can say that because I’ve gone on and got more caps, but I still look back on that with fond memories even though it didn’t go our way.
“It was the last time Italy had won in the Six Nations before they beat Wales at the end of the most recent tournament, so I was glad to see that monkey off my back.”
Of his 79th minute yellow card, Watson was a little unlucky to get on the wrong side of the referee. “It was a team one when he picked someone at the bottom of the maul.”
Nevertheless, it was a chastening introduction to international rugby and he doesn’t recall too many words of comfort in the aftermath.
“Not that I can remember. In moments like that you’ve got to have quite a lot of self-belief. My family obviously all got behind me. But it was a pretty bleak day for Scottish rugby and for a lot of players in that changing room, to lose to Italy at home, it was a pretty dark moment.”
Happily for Watson, things went on an upward trajectory thereafter. He has been a rock for club and country for the best part of a decade and his career reached new heights in the 2020-21 season when he was voted the player of the Six Nations and won a call up for the British & Irish Lions, playing in the first Test victory in South Africa.
The aim now is to ensure his 50th appearance is a winning one after the first Test defeat.
“It is quite an exclusive group and is an amazing achievement for me, for my family and all my friends,” he said. “Hopefully I mark it in the right way making sure we get the win.
“We need to win to take it to the last game, because a series win will give us something to build on going into the autumn.”