IT seemed a little grudging, but having set out with Scotland to show off 
their beautiful game in Cardiff on Saturday, Hamish Watson expressed some admiration for the way Ireland had won ugly as they opened their NatWest 6 Nations Championship account with what could prove a vital away victory on Saturday.

While the Scots had thrown away their chance of making a winning start earlier in the afternoon, the Irish had engaged in a traditional championship war of attrition with their hosts in Paris, conceding the only try of the game, but finding a way to keep the match alive in the dying stages before giving Jonny Sexton an admittedly outside, long-range chance of snatching victory with the last kick of the game.

It was a match that will contribute little to the tournament highlights reel, that Sexton strike and the reaction to it apart, but it may yet prove to be the decisive one this season and it in no way lacked either intensity or drama as a consequence, in contrast to many of the try sprees we have witnessed in recent times.

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“Anyone who can grind out that sort of victory by staying in the game, managing to get a late opportunity to win the game, and then taking it, then fair play to Ireland,” Watson said.

Committed as Scotland’s players have avowed themselves to be to the expansive style of play they have been pursuing, he was also prepared to acknowledge that in tournament play only one thing really matters.

“In this competition I think you would,” he said, when asked if he would be happy to win without scoring a try. “Obviously we want to score tries and play a good brand of rugby but I think it’s also a winning sport so you’ve got to take the win.”

In fairness to Watson he was among the few  Scots who seemed willing to do the hard yards on Saturday, leading the carry count with a grand total of five. However, the manner of their play was such that it felt as if a colleague was only slightly exaggerating when he left The Principality Stadium on Saturday evening muttering through gritted teeth: “Ireland had more phases in that final possession ahead of Sexton’s drop goal, than Scotland managed in the entire match.”

The way Scotland performed has given credence to a growing, but surely simplistic impression, that the team is looking to score immediately off every piece of possession and is unable or unprepared to do the necessary groundwork to set up opportunities for themselves, but Watson acknowledged the need to do so. 

“There were far too many errors,” he admitted. “We lost a lot of ball first phase, I think we got over eight phases once in the game, so that’s something that’s not really acceptable for us and it’s something we need to work on. If we can build the phases we’ve seen how teams struggle when we to multi-phase.”

That Scotland’s only try came in the 79th minute of the 80 on the back of that solitary instance of getting the phase count into double figures, stretching the defence sufficiently that Peter Horne had the easiest of tasks of picking the ball out of the last of the rucks and ambling over the line, only reinforces the point.

Not that they should be overly hard on themselves about the outcome, Ireland’s win having been only the second by an away team in any city other than Rome in the past two years, but the way Scotland lost, conceding a bonus point and looking like being shut out until they got that late, otherwise meaningless try, was a major issue.

“I think every team struggles to win away from home in the Six Nations, but obviously the manner in which we lost wasn’t acceptable and we’ve just got to move on and we’ve talked about that game, but we’ve put it to one side now, it’s how we react to this now,” said Watson.

“We need to go out and be positive and obviously it’s a must-win game  for us if we want to have anything to do with this championship. But it’s a must win for France as well, so it’s going to be a tough game and we’re being very positive this week and we’ve got to go out there and win.”