Many of the Edinburgh denizens who flood into BT Murrayfield for tomorrow’s big match would view 12.45pm on Saturday as a time for scones, but for one of the participants it will be well past dinner time.
“It’s a bit of a weird one. We’ve had one or two of them before,” said Scotland flanker Hamish Watson ahead of tomorrow’s early kick-off Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Munster at the national stadium. “We’ll be given the rough guidelines by the strength and conditioning coaches about what we need to do, a programme of when we need to eat and so on. They try to get you up fairly early so I’ll probably have breakfast at seven, go back to sleep for a little nap, and then have my main meal at 9.30. They’ll be putting pasta down us then. Maybe with Frosties or Coco Pops on top!”
Spaghetti bolognese at 9.30am? “There will be some in the freezer,” said Watson with a chuckle to the media, some of whom would settle for a very strong coffee at such an ungodly hour.
Edinburgh are set to break the UK record for a European game at this stage tomorrow, with ticket sales at 35,000 already, the clash with two-time European champions Munster should surpass the 37,888 Saracens recorded against Ulster at Twickenham in 2013. That beat the attendance Edinburgh had for their famous win over Toulouse the previous year by a mere six head counts.
It has been a big week for Watson, arguably Scotland’s best player in the past couple of seasons, as he committed to Edinburgh for two more years.
Following the frustration of a broken hand on the eve of the Six Nations he returned to make a magnificent comeback off the bench against Wales and then played a key part in that 38-38 epic against England.
Such performances don’t go unnoticed and Watson admitted that there had been “a few talks” about possible moves but he said it was an easy decision to remain.
“I have a family here now and that played a huge part,” said the 27-year-old Manchester-born openside who qualifies for Scotland through his Glaswegian grandparents, and hot-shot Christian name!
“I’ve got a little baby so to raise her in Edinburgh is something me and my fiancée wanted to do. It was a pretty easy decision in the end.
“You’d be silly not to talk to clubs and see what’s out there, but it was a pretty easy decision. I really want to try and win stuff with Edinburgh.
“I’ve signed for two years so if it takes two years or however many, will see what happens. I feel there is a lot of unfinished business here.”
That business is now all about Munster tomorrow as Edinburgh look to reach the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition for the first time since 2012, when Watson was a youth player after moving north from the Leicester Tigers academy in 2011.
“A few years ago we used to have these upwards waves and then it would stop. But this definitely does feel different,” said Watson of the new Richard Cockerill-led Edinburgh. “We’re in the Champions Cup, in the quarter-final, pushing for [Pro14] play-offs in consecutive years. We’ve managed to keep high-profile players so it really does feel that we’re going in the right direction.”
The term “pinball wizard” has been applied to Watson for his ability to bounce off tackles and drive into the opposition like “a motorised mouse” as ITV commentator Nick Mullins memorably described him during that Calcutta Cup drama.
At just over six feet Watson is hardly a mouse, but certainly wouldn’t be put in a king-size pack of forwards. He says his style of playing is instinctive rather than conscious.
“I don’t practise that too much in training because it’s quite a physical part of the game and I try to avoid that stuff in training,” he explained.
“It’s just one of those things. I’ve always been fairly alright at it. I try to get my hands on the ball and do it when I can.”
Watson recalls that time seven years ago when Edinburgh knocked off four-time champions Toulouse to reach the Heineken Cup semi-finals for the first time in Scottish pro-club history, but with a different slant from a teen in the stands with a Coke and hot dog.
“I was pretty young back then. I was at the club but only 19. It feels different because I’m more involved in it,” he said. “I played a few games that year, but with Europe I was very much looking in from the outside. I was in training with the players but I was looking at Europe more as a fan.
“I remember it is a really exciting experience for everyone and to get 40,000 at Murrayfield for a club game was very special. If we can get that again it will be amazing for the fans. I’ve never played in front of that many fans for Edinburgh so it will be a huge game and we have to make sure we take our opportunity.”
It’s a pretty safe bet that Cockerill will be throwing the No. 7 jersey to Watson tomorrow but there are selection dilemmas as Edinburgh build a reputation as one of the best forward packs around. The return from injury of fellow back-rower John Barclay in last weekend’s win over Leinster adds another layer to that.
“It was great to have Barcs back. He did say I should try to bring him up in the press conference but you did it for me,” said a laughing Watson. “It’s great to have him back. He has been out for ten months but you could see the impact he had on the game. His workrate is up there with the best.
“He is also a real leader on the field. We have a lot of players who lead by example but he definitely leads with communication and with his actions.”