Hamish Watson outlines where Edinburgh need to improve, his faith in Blair Kinghorn and the benefits of an early trip to South Africa

Regrets? He’s got a few, but when Hamish Watson looks back on last season with Edinburgh it’s mostly with pride.

The club faltered towards the end, losing a couple of key games at their new home ground which had previously seemed impregnable, but Watson saw enough to fill him with confidence for the new BKT United Rugby Championship campaign which begins for them on Saturday night when the Dragons visit the DAM Health Stadium.

Watson doesn’t expect Edinburgh to alter their style, with the emphasis, particularly at home, on fast, expansive rugby under the tutelage of Mike Blair. What he would like to see improve is their ability to turn chances into more tries.

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The narrow home losses against Ulster in the URC and Wasps in the European Challenge Cup across two spring weekends last season stymied Edinburgh and, although they recovered to win a key match against Glasgow, the major honours eluded them.

“I guess in the end it was kind of annoying the way the season ended, with getting knocked out of Europe at home. I think we always knew that the [URC] quarter-final away at the Stormers was going to be a tough game. Although we were in it, and could have won it, we knew that was always going to be a tough match-up.

“Realistically, we probably lost it when we didn’t beat Ulster at home that day and we could have got the home quarter-final. I think that was the big game for us - arguably almost bigger than the quarter-final, because to get the home quarter would have made a big difference.

“We did maybe just fade away a little bit at the end of the season, but as a whole I thought we had a really good season. First season under Mike, it’s never easy coming in and trying to embed the cultures that you want to change and the playing styles that need changing, and I thought he did that really well.

“You saw the balance he had in the team, and the guys he’s brought in since then. I think the squad is in a really good place.”

Hamish Watson at the launch of the new BKT United Rugby Championship season at Burnham Beeches, near Slough. Picture: www.inpho.ie

Jamie Ritchie, Bill Mata and Henry Immelman have all returned from long-term injuries to play their part in pre-season and although results have been disappointing - losses to London Scottish and Benetton - the real gauge of where Edinburgh are will come this weekend.

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Asked where he would like to see the team improve, Watson says they need to be “more clinical”.

“When we look back at last season, I think our attack was really good and up there with most line-breaks in the URC, most tackle-breaks and all the right stuff. But I think the thing we were probably lacking was our conversion rate once we got down in that 22.

Hamish Watson, right, has been impressed by Blair Kinghorn's abilities at 10. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
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“We didn’t turn many of those line-breaks into points at times and I think we can definitely be a bit more clinical. So that’s definitely something we’re looking at working on in pre-season and hopefully getting better going into the season.”

Watson is unsure if he will be involved against Dragons as he and the other Edinburgh players who toured Argentina with Scotland edge their way back following their delayed return to pre-season. But if he doesn’t play on Saturday he will certainly be on the flight to South Africa the following week when the squad heads off for games against the Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers in rounds two and three of the URC.

The two sides contested last season’s Grand Final but Watson thinks it is better to be playing them now while they are without their Springboks who are representing South Africa in the Rugby Championship.

“When the fixture list came out I’d just come back off a summer tour and it probably would have been nice to have a few more weeks at home, but from an Edinburgh point of view I think it’s a really good time to play them,” said Watson.

Hamish Watson doesn't expect Edinburgh to alter their style much this season. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

“We’ve got all our players back fit and raring to go bar Emiliano Boffelli who’s with Argentina. Apart from that we’re fully loaded so I think it’s a great time to play them. They’re obviously going to be missing a few internationals. We know away from home it’s going to be tough, like our tour last year against the Sharks and the Lions, but it’s always tough against South African teams away from home but we’re pretty confident.”

Edinburgh were the first European team to win a URC game in South Africa when they defeated Sharks last season in rainy Durban and Watson believes they can do it again.

“The weather was quite kind to us that day and it was a bit of a kicking fest but nonetheless we played really well and did what we needed to do to win the game,” said the flanker. “We know it’s going to be tough out there but there is no reason why we can’t replicate that.”

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The win in Durban was a pivotal moment for Blair Kinghorn’s evolution as a stand-off. The former full-back ran the game, scoring two tries in the 21-5 win. His conversion from back three player to fly-half was fundamental to Edinburgh’s improvement and Watson is enthused to have him pulling the strings for the new campaign.

“I think last season he was amazing, he’s up there with the most exciting 10s in the league. You know that when Blair’s on the ball he can always do something from anywhere, whether that’s his own 22 or the opponents’ 22 and it’s quite nice having a 10 like that.

“It’s exciting and he can spark something from nothing. He going into only his second full year at 10 so you might expect the odd little error but I think what he’s doing at 10 at the moment for club and country has been really good.”



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