Hamish Watson on why Edinburgh are in good shape for Stormers test in Cape Town
Three trips to South Africa in under a year won’t do much for his carbon footprint but Hamish Watson is hoping his experience of winning in the republic can help Edinburgh take a major step forward in their development under Mike Blair.
The capital side landed in Cape Town last weekend to prepare for Saturday’s United Rugby Championship quarter-final with the Stormers. With a full week to acclimatise, Edinburgh feel like they are in good shape and they are buoyed by memories of their victory over the Sharks in Durban in April when they became the first European team to win a URC match in South Africa.
Watson can also draw on his experiences with the British & Irish Lions last summer and the part he played in the first Test triumph over the Springboks in Cape Town Stadium.
The player returns to the ground this weekend for the match against Stormers whose run of eight consecutive victories - seven at home - saw them clinch second place in the URC standings.
“It’s a massive occasion,” said Watson. “I feel we’re already well prepped. It’s quite a big bit of travel but we left on Friday so we’ve had a few days to get used to our new surroundings. We had a really light session on Monday because some of the boys flew out on Saturday and arrived on Sunday, and then we had our first really tough blowout on Tuesday.
“The boys trained really well. There’s a lot of energy, you can tell it’s knockout rugby. There’s that sense that it is a massive game. I think everyone knows at the club how big this game is for all the players and the club as a whole.
“We’re playing in a big stadium that a lot of the boys have never played at before, and it’s going to be really exciting. It’s a great ground to play in and we can’t wait to get out there and play in a huge quarter-final for this club.”
Built for the 2010 football World Cup, the Cape Town Stadium is an imposing 55,000-capacity structure which only this season became home to the Stormers following the decision to sell Newlands.
Due to Covid, it was empty last summer when it played host to South Africa’s three-Test series with the Lions which saw the Boks recover from the opening defeat to prevail 2-1.
Watson was involved in the first Test only, playing his part as a second half replacement as the tourists won 22-17 after trailing 12-3 at the break.
“It’s going to be awesome for the boys to play in that stadium,” he said. “I know that when I went there even without fans it was an amazing experience. It’s going to be very different but there are a few of the lads from last summer who are playing for the Stormers.
“We’ll go and have a look at the ground on team run day and then after that you’ve got to get that stuff out of your head. It’s like any other game, it doesn’t matter where it is.
“It was nice to play in that first Test that we won. It was an awesome experience for me and my family. But that’s in the past and it would be even better if we could beat them out here, away from home, take their seed and have a semi at the DAM Health.”
Edinburgh are still basking in the warm glow of their convincing 28-11 victory over Glasgow last month, a result that prised the 1872 Cup from their opponents’ hands and secured a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup. Following on as it did from back-to-back home defeats by Ulster and Wasps, the derby win was especially welcome.
“Those were a couple of disappointing games we lost but I think those games could have definitely swung either way, they were both within a score,” said Watson. “So it was really important for us to get back to winning ways and to do it against our biggest rivals was a great way to do it. And not just to win the game but get that Champions Cup for next season, and to win the 1872 Cup as well. That was a real plus for all of us. It wasn’t something we were all speaking about. We were just concentrating on winning the game.
“A lot of credit to all the guys and the coaches because we put ourselves in a great position to win that, and to win a cup as well was excellent. In the end I thought we controlled the game really well and I thought we were the better team throughout that whole 80 minutes. It was a good game for us.”
Watson knows they are unlikely to have as much control on Saturday but Edinburgh can at least draw on their experience of winning in South Africa, albeit in very different circumstances.
“That Sharks game was a difficult one for them,” said Watson. “The conditions probably favoured us a little bit, it was chucking it down that day. I thought we controlled the game really well that day.
“This weekend we’re expecting good weather so it’s going to be a completely different game. But again we’ve got to control the game and play in the right areas. We know how dangerous they are – they’ve got a really big pack, a really good back three and are dangerous in the counter-attack, so we're going to have to play the game well and control those areas.
“It helps maybe from my point of view, having been in South Africa quite a bit over the past year and having played in the stadium we’re going to play in at the weekend but more than that it's just focusing on the Edinburgh side of things.”