PLAYERS and coaches can talk all they like about taking each game as it comes, focusing on the task in hand and not getting ahead of themselves. But in reality, some matches are primarily preparations for the match that follows, and Scotland’s game against Fiji on Saturday was very much a case in point.

Beating the Fijians – which Gregor Townsend’s side managed to do in the end – was to be expected. Yet although the outcome was obviously important, the game was mainly a rehearsal for Sunday’s match against New Zealand, in which Scotland will bid to win for the first time in a fixture that dates back to 1905.

The aim in a rehearsal is both to reassure yourself with a solid performance and to deal with any flaws that may arise. But in the case of the 28-12 win over Fiji, the flaws were more in evidence than the solidity, and Hamish Watson acknowledged that Scotland will have to tighten up on several aspects of their play if they are to have a realistic chance of beating the All Blacks.

“There’s a lot to work on for next week,” the Edinburgh openside said. “We know we need to be a lot better against a really good New Zealand side. We’re going to have to start well against them, because we know how good they are.

“We’ve got to believe in ourselves from the start and that’s how you beat a team like them – you go in with confidence. You want to be respectful as well – they are a great team – but you’ve got to believe you can do it or there’s not much point in being out there.”

Watson was involved the last time the teams met, at Murrayfield in 2017, when Scotland lost 22-17 after a last-ditch Beauden Barrett tackle denied Stuart Hogg a try in the left corner. Looking back on that game, the forward believes that if his team had started it as confidently as they finished, they might just have won.

“I can’t remember the whole game, but I know we had chances towards the end to win it,” he said. “I think once we believed we were actually in it and that we could actually go on and win the game we started feeling more confident. So we have to try to be confident from the start.

“It’s important that the younger guys don’t let the occasion get to them. Obviously, New Zealand were top of the world rankings for ever, so if you’ve been brought up watching them then maybe they have that aura around them.

“It’s not like any other game, because we know how good they are. But we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves and start better, get hold of the penalty count and stop giving away silly penalties.”

That indiscipline, which had also been a feature of the 16-15 defeat by Australia seven days earlier, was one of the most frustrating features of the Fiji match. The visitors may not have punished it too severely – and in fact ended up giving away more penalties than Scotland – but Watson knows that the All Blacks are unlikely to be so lenient. Their results in 2022 may have been indifferent by their own high standards, but he sees no reason to expect them to be anything but at their best when they visit on Sunday.

“At one point, when they were winning the World Cup, they had a cloak of invincibility around them. Now there are a few cracks there, they’ve lost a few games, but you’ve seen them bounce back and they look back to their best. They play some amazing rugby and still look like the best team in the world sometimes.

“Maybe in the last few months they’ve been a bit more inconsistent than we’ve been used to, but they’re still an amazing team and we’re going to give them all the respect they deserve – but also believe in ourselves massively. We believe in this group even though we haven’t clicked yet over these last two weeks. So we’ve got to go in there full of confidence, full of energy and just trust each other.”