Whenever Hamish Watson hangs up his boots, he will be able to look back with justified pride at a long and distinguished playing career that attracted wide-reaching recognition, including a Six Nations player-of-the-tournament award and selection to the British and Ireland Lions tour to South Africa – with a Test appearance – later that same year.

But the 31-year-old isn’t ready to call it quits yet and on Saturday night against Romania he served notice to Rory Darge – eight years younger and first choice No 7 for the opening two games of this World Cup campaign – that there is life in the old dog yet.

The veteran flanker ran in the first of Scotland’s 12 tries in an 84-0 demolition of the (not-so) ‘Mighty Oaks’ and had several other powerful carries during the opening quarter which helped set the tone for that emphatic victory.

He was eventually replaced by Darge on 65 minutes having carried the ball 16 times in total, more than any other forward on the park, with head coach Gregor Townsend acknowledging post-match that the veteran flanker had made a strong case for inclusion in the match-day squad for next Saturday's do-or-die clash against Ireland in Paris, when the front-liners who were rested against Romania will all come back into the mix.

Scotland must not only beat Ireland but also match them in the number of bonus points (losing and/or four-try) claimed from the match in order to progress to the World Cup knock-out stages for the first time since 2015.

“It was nice to be back out there. It seems like it’s been forever since my last game. I’ve had to wait eight weeks, I think,” was Watson’s own post-match response. “It’s not always easy when you make a lot of changes to the team, but the boys who came in did well. It puts us in a good position for next week. 

“I managed to get myself into some good carrying slots early in the game. It was important just to try and get my hands on the ball early on."

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After missing out on selection to John Hardie for the 2015 tournament at the start of his international career, and then managing just 37 minutes of the opening game of the 2019 campaign before suffering a knee injury, Watson will view World Cups as one area where he has unfinished business – and a place in the match-day squad for next weekend would go a long way to filling that gap in his CV.

“It’s just nice to actually play a full part in a game and come off unscathed compared to what happened four years ago," Watson added.

“It’s been a different role for me in the past few weeks, helping the boys prepare for games. I’m obviously not really used to that, and it has been tough, but I feel like I’ve now at least put myself forward into the conversation about selection. We’ll see what the coaches do. It’s obviously a massive game for us. 

“I think it was 2017 the last time we beat Ireland so not many boys in this squad would have been around back then. Credit to them, they’re a good team and really tough to beat, and we’re playing them when they’re at their best as well – they’ve won 16 games in a row and they obviously looked great against South Africa. 

“But that’s probably the way we prefer it as underdogs, being written off, and needing to win by eight points or more. This is going to be a really good week leading into a massive game for the whole country.” 

Huw Jones, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Zander Fagerson and Richie Gray are the only other survivors in the current squad from that 2017 game.

Meanwhile, the most painful of Scotland’s eight consecutive defeats to Ireland since then was undoubtedly the opening game of the last World Cup, when Watson suffered that knee injury and the team endured a morale-crushing 27-3 loss on their way to plummeting out of the tournament at the end of the pool phase.

But Watson insists that the squad is better equipped now to face the challenge of taking on a rampant Ireland than they were four years ago.

“There’s a lot of continuity at the moment,” he reasoned. “We’ve been building really well.  I think the squad as a whole is a lot tighter and in a lot better place.  

“I know we say we’re a close-knit group quite a lot, but it is true. Everyone who gets selected doesn’t take it lightly.  It feels like we’ve got some good momentum leading into what’s going to be a massive game for us against the best team in the world.”

Of course, it is not necessarily going to be a straight shoot-out between Watson and Darge for the No 7 jersey.  Captain and blindside flanker Jamie Ritchie suffered a concussion against Tonga eight days ago and will only complete his return-to-play protocols this coming Friday if there are no hiccups. 
The Scotland management team believe he is making good progress, but if Ritchie doesn’t make it then that could open the door for both Watson and Darge being involved in the match-day 23.