Having chased shadows for the first half and then being the one chased in the second, it’s hardly surprising Hamish Watson has mixed feelings about Scotland’s last visit to Twickenham.
The back rower had the gutting feeling of not winning the game thanks to George Ford’s equalising injury-time try forcing the 38-38 draw, but also that the Scots hadn’t really deserved to win after the disaster of the first half.
31-0 down after England’s blitzkrieg start, the Scots got a lift from Stuart McInally’s charge down and sprint for a try just before the break. They scored four tries in the second half and were leading as the clock went into the red.
‘A weird game’
“It was such a weird game with all the emotions which only sport can deliver,” he recalled. “There is no other thing that makes you feel like that. The ups and downs are one of the great things about sport.
“I think at the end we felt hard done by, which I know seems a ridiculous thing to say when you were 31-0 down at one point.
“But to get into the position where you are winning the game 38-31 and that close at Twickenham, only to end up drawing – it was nuts.
“It was probably a game we didn’t deserve to win, if we’re being honest, the way we played in the first half. But when you put yourself in a position to win the game like that, it was pretty gutting when you don’t manage to get over the line.”
‘We are going to have to start well’
Does the second half give the Scots confidence they can finally win at Twickenham for the first time in nearly four decades? Up to a point, says Watson.
“It’s good having that game, knowing how well we performed in the second half. We know can do that against a team like England away from home,” he said.
“But then again I was involved in the 2017 game (lost 61-21) as well. We know we have to be on it and compared to both of those games, we are going to have to start well.
“That makes it a lot easier to stay in the game and gives you the best chance of winning. Against these good teams you have to start really well.”
Getting a solid start for once is going to be crucial if Scotland are to upset the champions.
‘We’ve got to hit the ground running’
“In any international game you’ve got to come with that extra bit of focus. That’s controlling the first 20 minutes of the game and maybe not playing as loosely.
“It’s a bit to do with mindset – we’ve got to hit the ground running. When we’ve gone to Twickenham the last two times we’ve definitely not done that.
“In 2017 there was a yellow card that didn’t help. But in 2019 there was no excuse, it was just a slow start and we put ourselves in a dreadful position.
“Then it becomes really hard to overturn that deficit. I think it’s down to control, to be honest. You’ve got to go down there and try to control the first 20 minutes of the game.”
Scotland have still not won more than three games in any Six Nations. To push for four means they’re going to win one of the away games against the two favourites for the title
‘It’s a big opportunity to build on’
“I think we’ve seen in the last few years, and not just with Scotland, that teams struggle to get away wins,” said Watson.
“We obviously got one in Wales in the game in the autumn. We know that if we want to progress we’re going to have to win our three home games and pick up an away win which is historically quite a hard thing to do in the Six Nations.
“It’s two of the in-form teams in rugby, with France and England away, so it’s a great opportunity to try to build on those three wins which we’ve done in three of the last campaigns out of four.
“To become one of the top teams in the world you’ve got to start winning your away games, and that’s the challenge for us.”
‘We now need to back that up’
The Wales win is proof they can win away in a country they’ve struggled recently – it was an 18-year gap there, compared to 38 at Twickenham.
“I think that was a massive win for us in Wales,” said Watson. “It was (Llanelli) which was slightly different but nevertheless it was a country where we haven’t won for a long time.
“I think that does give us a slight extra boost, but we now need to back that up. It is all about backing up one good performance with another in international rugby.”