THE decision to have British and Irish Lions chairman Jason Leonard announce the squad for this summer’s tour to South Africa in alphabetical order was bad news for Hamish Watson’s nerves. Although this season’s Six Nations player-of-the-championship was always likely to be on the list, the flanker admits to feeling increasingly tense the longer the process of reading out the names went on and an unannounced last-minute decision to increase the squad size from 36 to 37 in order to include an extra back-rower didn’t help the stress levels. 

“We got the option of whether or not we wanted to watch it [the squad announcement] at home or with the team, so I just rushed home and watched it with my wife and two young girls, who didn't really have a clue what was going on and were fighting over a bag of crisps,” he explained. 

“It was horrible being at the end because you're trying to work out how many back-rowers they've already called and in the end they took seven. I just remember worrying that they'd named so many back-rowers that I must have missed out. It was quite nerve-wracking. 

“My wife was crying. I think she was more excited than I was. It was a weird feeling. I wasn't jumping up and down or anything. It was just shock in a way, because although you think you may have a chance, you know how good the competition is, especially in the back-row, from all the other home nations.  


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“It was one of those ones that, although you see your name getting chucked around, you never really know. Then, after the shock there was a bit of excitement, and now I’m mainly proud because it's just a massive honour. 

“It's still hard to put into words but it's just incredible. To get onto a Lions tour is not something you ever think you're ever going to achieve so it was a very surreal moment. It’s the pinnacle of rugby for anyone in the UK and Ireland. I'm just really happy for me and my family – my mum and my dad.” 

The 29-year-old adds that the fact he is a member of the biggest Scottish cohort since Finlay Calder’s 1989 tour has made the whole experience even more enjoyable, and he believes that he and his team-mates have now got a golden opportunity to inspire the nation. 

"I think growing up now it will be slightly different for young kids,” he said. “If us eight Scottish lads can all train and perform well, then who knows how many will actually be in the Test team?  

“I can't remember back to 1997, which we last tour that had a lot of Scots, so when I was growing-up I didn’t have that – but young kids coming up now, they can actually see a lot of Scottish players are getting in the squad and I think that's great for them to see people in their country are achieving that. It's really good for the whole nation. 

“To see so many Scottish names in there when the squad was getting read out was amazing,” he added. “We train together every day in Scotland camp so we know how each other play and how we can bring out the best of each other, and we can also look forward to having Gregor Townsend and Steve Tandy there too.  


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“It's really exciting to get to know some of the other players, too, and hopefully build relationships with some of the guys we've had rivalries with over the last few years.” 

While Watson’s Six Nations form made him one of the stand-out candidates for selection to this tour, there was some murmurings from a number of pundits about whether his 6ft 1ins and 16stone frame was suitable for taking on the full might of the Springboks. Fortunately, Lions head coach Warren Gatland did not see it that way, and that point of view is certainly not something the player is going to lose any sleep over. 

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” he shrugged. “The thing with lots of the media stuff is that if you believe the good stuff then you have got to believe the bad stuff, so I’m like quite a lot of the boys and try not to read into it too much. Obviously, it's hard to avoid when we all have social media nowadays, but it's something I have had to deal with my whole career – people saying I am small – so it's nothing new to me.” 

Watson didn’t play for Edinburgh in last night’s 1872 Cup match because he is nursing a tight groin, but says it is not a threat to his involvement on the tour. “We had quite a tough Six Nations with those three back-to-back games at the end, and then went straight into the Racing game in the Champions Cup, so I am just rehabbing and trying to get everything right,” he explained.