Hamish Watson wants to put bite on Lyon

Hamish Watson was a key man as Edinburgh beat Connacht
Hamish Watson was a key man as Edinburgh beat Connacht
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It is proving to be an eventful season for Edinburgh flanker Hamish Watson – and a trip to Lyon in the European Challenge Cup on Saturday will provide another chapter.

Debuting at Euro level in the opening match of the pool at Bordeaux-Begles a few days before his 23rd birthday in October, Watson got the best possible present in the form of a 15-13 win.

One week later and he was ready to demonstrate against Lyon at BT Murrayfield that an invitation to be part of Scotland coach Vern Cotter’s extended group should be upgraded into a core role.

Then, 15 minutes in with Edinburgh leading 13-0, calamity struck.

“Ross Ford went into a tackle low and I went high and a shoulder went into my jaw. My face felt a bit loose and then I realised that one side could touch the other,” said Watson using his tongue as a pointer in an attempt to demonstrate the deconstruction.

What had occurred was a broken jaw which eclipsed his previous worst setback – a hamstring strain.

“I ended up having quite a big operation and although that ensured I could return to training in a couple of months the worst part was having to spend the first two weeks after the injury in bed.

“Not only that, I had to learn to sleep sitting up and while other players injured in the same match were able to begin rehab in the gym I had to be more careful about my movement. It was a very uncomfortable few weeks eating mostly scrambled egg. Being on the outskirts of the Scotland squad at that stage didn’t make it any better.

“That’s rugby, you do get horrible injuries and I have a few screws and a plate in my face to prove it.

“Fortunately there is plenty of the season left.”

The journey to make up for lost time began a fortnight ago when Watson came off the bench in the closing stages of the 1872 Cup derby victory over Glasgow.

Even though it was a cameo appearance he did enough to persuade coach Alan Solomons to re-jig his back row for last Friday’s trip to Galway where a first home defeat of the season was inflicted on Connacht.

As has always been the case this season – and starting from when he gained man-of-the-match honours in the August friendly against Leicester – Watson was at the heart of matters.

Of the nine carries made by Watson only David Denton (ten) managed more while 21 tackles (only Alasdair Dickinson, with 30, had more) helped keep Connacht in check including when they had the advantage of a strong wind in the first half.

What’s more a full 80 minute shift further helped consign that broken jaw to history.

“It was definitely in the first contact session back in training when I was most wary,” he recalled. “But if you’ve been tackling your whole life you know it is the first tackle back that counts most.

“The nerves start to go the more tackles you make. It’s the same with anyone coming back from any injury, it does take a bit of time.”

In the whole of last season Watson was restricted to three appearances off the bench for Edinburgh and was a more familiar sight in Accies colours at Raeburn Place in the Premiership.

So, what has made the difference to the extent he has been an ever-present starter when fit this time around?

“I had my first full pre-season last year under the direction of Alan Solomons as he came in during August 2013.

“I started the first pre-season game and did alright. Sometimes you have to wait for an opportunity and when it comes along take it. No one wants to get injured but in your career you are going to get one or two bad injuries. Hopefully I can now get a run.

“Being in an extended training squad for Scotland’s Autumn Tests was very good news but I’ll now concentrate on Edinburgh stuff, trying to get a starting spot and see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Lyon will go into action on the back of a 22-23 defeat at Bayonne but with an impressive recent record on their home turf.

Lyon will be looking to build on home wins over Clermont Auvergne and Stade Francais knowing that any slip will end their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages as they currently sit on ten points, six behind unbeaten Edinburgh and a point adrift of Bordeaux-Begles. Edinburgh have four victories from four, with back-to-back victories over London Welsh and two wins against French opposition.

A bonus-point win for Edinburgh would guarantee qualification with a match to spare against Bordeaux at BT Murrayfield on Friday week.