Since he last pulled on the dark blue, Watson has been named Six Nations player of the tournament, made his Test debut for the Lions and turned 30.
It’s fair to say it was a busy summer for the flanker, although not quite as busy as he would have liked. The Edinburgh openside would have loved to have seen more action with the Lions in South Africa, but he has come to terms with it and moved on. It’s all about Scotland now and a run of Test matches for which Tonga was the appetiser.
Australia are the visitors to Murrayfield this weekend, followed in short order by South Africa and Japan. It’s a lot of tough rugby to be played in a fortnight but Watson is confident his body is ready for the fray.
He wasn’t fit enough to play for Edinburgh before the international window so his return came at Test level and he enjoyed his first-half run-out against Tonga last Saturday, before being replaced by Luke Crosbie at the break. Watson now feels like he has overcome the groin injury which has been nagging him since the end of last season.
“It was pre-planned to have limited game-time,” Watson explained. “But I definitely felt like I could have carried on playing. My groin was in a good spot. It wasn’t like I was saying I can only play 40 minutes. My groin was feeling good and the plan was to take me off while it was feeling good. It wasn’t pushed to the limits so I felt I couldn’t play any more.”
Rest and rehabilitation have proved the best cure for Watson who was able to avoid surgery.
“With all these things you weigh up your options and you go for scans and speak to specialists and, without going into too much detail, it was decided that an operation wasn’t the best thing for it and that we’d rehab it,” he added.
“My groin has been bothering me for a while so it was great to get some time off after the Lions tour and have a good bit of a rehab block as well.
“It was probably not the ideal circumstances to come back into international rugby but it was good to get 40 minutes under my belt.
“The Scottish-based Lions came back the week before me so it’s not like I missed a mad amount of rugby so I feel I am in a good place just now and hopefully these issues are behind me now.
“The reality is probably a player is never 100 per cent going into a game but you have to be fighting fit, whether that is against Tonga, Australia, South Africa. If I was not fit I would not have played last week against Tonga.”
Despite the crushing scoreline, the 60-14 win over Tonga was no Saturday afternoon stroll as those on the receiving end of some of the hits will confirm. Nevertheless, this Sunday’s game against Australia represents a huge step up in class.
The Wallabies have arrived in Edinburgh on the back of five consecutive wins, over South Africa (twice), Argentina (twice) and Japan. Dave Rennie, formerly in charge of Glasgow Warriors, is working an impressive revival job and, with former Glasgow and Scotland assistant Matt Taylor alongside him, they are not short of info on this weekend’s opponents.
It’s their first meeting with Scotland in four years and they were on the end of 53-24 hiding on their last visit to Murrayfield. The Scots scored eight tries that day as Australia folded in the aftermath of Sekope Kepu’s dismissal. Watson was a key player as he had been five months earlier when Gregor Townsend’s side won away 24-19, scoring the final try in Sydney.
Happy memories but not hugely relevant to Sunday’s game, according to Watson.
“Yeah, it gives us a bit of confidence,” he said. “The squad is very different to what it was back then but on a personal level and a few of the boys in camp too know we have a fairly decent record the last few times we played them.
“They are always there or thereabouts as one of the top teams in world rugby so, yeah, it was a big achievement but we know that was a few years ago now and they maybe weren’t in the best place, or their union wasn’t in the best place, but they were still great wins for us.
“It’ll be a different test this time around. There are lots of coaches there who we know and it’s going to be a tight contest and lots of those guys in the coaching box will be trying to get one over on us.”
Scotland are in a good place right now and Watson has welcomed the competition from within, a consequence of a strong squad which has been augmented by some new back-row talent.
Dylan Richardson, the Sharks flanker, is now part of the group along with Edinburgh’s Crosbie. Glasgow’s Rory Darge would also have been in line for an autumn debut had he not suffered a knee injury against Leinster last month.
“It’s good to have pressure there,” added Watson. “You don’t want to rest on your laurels and those young guys are great players, they’ve been playing really well for their clubs, Luke with Edinburgh and Rory with Glasgow.
“Dylan’s been playing really well for the Sharks in the URC and he’s come into camp and integrated really well.
“That’s what you want, you want people there who are top quality players. There’s always been competition for places. Ever since I’ve been involved with Scotland there have always been good sevens, good back-rowers. It’s something we’ve never struggled with in Scotland.”