HIS international career got off to a fairly inauspicious start, but Hamish Watson is not the type of character to let that hold him back, and on the eve of bringing up his half century of Scotland appearances, the 30-year-old flanker was able to look back on that nightmare debut with a wry smile. 

It was seven years ago, during the 2015 Six Nations, that Watson’s big moment came, when he trotted off the bench in the 50th minute of Scotland’s match against Italy at Murrayfield. The home side were 16-15 up but appeared to be in control of the contest, and they then moved three points further ahead when Greig Laidlaw kicked his fourth penalty of the afternoon to stretch the gap to four points. 

But then a late Italian surge led to calamity and heartbreak. First Ben Toolis (also a new cap) was sin-binned for collapsing Italy’s juggernaut maul as it rolled relentlessly towards the home line, and he was soon joined on the naughty step by Watson for the same offence. Worse still, referee George Clancy decided at this point that enough was enough and awarded a penalty try, handing the visitors a famous win – their last in the Six Nations for seven years until their even more dramatic success over Wales in the most recent Six Nations. 

“In a moment like that you’ve got to have quite a lot of self-belief and my family obviously all got behind me,” reflected Watson earlier this week after being named vice-captain of the Scotland side which will take on Argentina in Salta tonight. “And although it wasn’t a great game for the country, if I was naming my highlights of all the Scotland games I’ve played in, it would still be up there.  

“Like anybody, getting your first cap is a massive honour, and if it had all ended on one cap, I would still be immensely proud of that day. It is a weird one. Maybe I can say that because I’ve gone on and got more caps, but I still look back on that with fond memories even though it didn’t go our way. 

“It was the last time Italy had won in the Six Nation before they beat Wales earlier this year, so I was glad to see that monkey off my back.” 

Having missed last week’s defeat to Argentina due to a chest/shoulder injury, Watson’s recall is one of five changes head coach Gregor Townsend has made to his starting XV for tonight’s win-or-bust second Test of a three-match series, and he is determined to mark the occasion in style. 

 “After that first cap I didn’t think I would get 50 so to be named in the team this weekend is an amazing achievement for me, my family and all my friends,” he said. “It is quite an exclusive group and hopefully I mark it in the right way by making sure we get the win, which at the end of the day is the most important thing.” 

Townsend has opted to pick two openside flankers for this match and Watson says he is looking forward to teaming up with Rory Darge in the battle of the back-rows. 

 “We played together during the Six Nations and felt that we went pretty well as a partnership so hopefully we can do the job again this weekend,” he said. “Having two opensides on the park creates a lot of opportunities at the breakdown, so I think we can target that area quite a bit, to slow their ball down, hopefully steal a few and make sure that we get quick ball for ourselves. 

“We’re both quite fit guys who get around the park well, so we’ll try to get high involvements in both attack and defence. I guess a traditional seven doesn’t carry the ball that much but me and Rory both like to get stuck in with our carries as well, so I don’t think the team is losing anything on that front. 

“It is just about trying to bring as much energy as possible to help wear the Argentineans down.” 

“The mood in the camp has been pretty upbeat this week,” he continued. “We know we didn’t play well last week but still created some opportunities and scored two tries and had one chalked off. 

“Our attack, when we had the ball, was pretty good, and we made it look easy at times, but we made too many errors at crucial moments, and we did not control the game well.  

“So, if we can tighten up in a few key areas then we know we can turn this series around. 

“It is the first three Test tour for as long as I can remember so that puts a big emphasis on the game because it is win or bust,” he added.  “We are building towards the World Cup but that’s not just about getting players game time, you want to generate as much momentum as possible, so it is a hugely important game.  

“We need to win to take it to the last game, because a series win will give us something to build on going into the Autumn.”