Edinburgh Rugby flanker Hamish Watson believes that the Capital outfit has a squad capable of competing for a top-six finish in the Guinness PRO12 and, at the same time, seeking to replicate last season’s appearance in the final of the European Challenge Cup.
ith wins in their opening two matches, Edinburgh’s campaign to reach the knockout stages of the pan-continental tournament continues on Saturday with a trip to face London Irish.
“Our main priority is top six (in the league) but after the (cup) run last year, we have high hopes in this competition. We want to get to the final again”, said the 24-year-old openside who, despite outstanding form early in the season, is facing tougher competition for a starting berth with the arrival at the club of John Hardie. “We are not prioritising one more than the other. We are trying to do the best we can in both competitions.”
Watson feels that the personal battle with Hardie for the No.7 shirt should drive both men on as the season unfolds. And, he believes that their tussle simply emphasises the depth of resources at the disposal of coach Alan Solomons as Edinburgh pursue a place in the top tier European Champions Cup next season – a goal that requires a top six league place or victory in the Challenge Cup.
“Anything below top six would be really disappointing this year. We’ve got the squad to do it, although we have a few injuries at the moment, and we will just keep pushing in both tournaments,” added the man who made his Scotland debut against Italy in February’s RBS Six Nations clash on his home patch.
Despite having been victorious against the same opponents last season, he and his colleagues know that a different challenge lies ahead this weekend. That success at the Madejski Stadium, which secured Edinburgh’s place in the semi finals, has already been consigned to history.
“We haven’t spoken much about last year’s game and we haven’t watched any footage of it because teams change even in a year,” Watson pointed out before suggesting that the travails of Saturday’s opponents – they currently sit in the basement slot of the Aviva Premiership table with defeats in all six matches to date – makes the trip even more hazardous.
“They are struggling a bit in the Premiership at the moment so they will be looking to gain some momentum from these Challenge Cup games. They will come at us and I would imagine they will play a pretty strong team to try and build some confidence.
“Most French teams that are struggling in the league won’t play full sides in the Challenge Cup, but I don ‘t think that will happen with London Irish. They have to watch out for that relegation battle but they can’t afford to put out a weakened side and lose these two games because they will want to build confidence. So, I’m pretty confident they will field a pretty strong team and look to have a real crack at the Challenge Cup.”
The trip also presents a potential opportunity for Watson to lock horns with Blair Cowan, one of his rivals for a place in Vern Cotter’s Scotland squad ahead of the upcoming six nations tournament. Watson will go into that contest with a personal point to prove and is confident that, if he is selected, it will be as part of an Edinburgh forward pack looking to build on a string of dominant performances in both league and cup competitions over recent weeks.
“The front five will go into the game thinking they can do a job on London Irish. Our scrum and maul is pretty strong so hopefully that will be an advantage,” he said, attributing the credit for that to Solomons’ assistant, Stevie Scott. “Stevie’s influence is massive, mainly with the forwards but he also does a lot of breakdown stuff with the whole team. You can see that our forward pack is definitely one of the best in the Pro12. He’s a great coach who specialises in lineouts and scrums. All that work you see us do on the field is pretty much down to him.”