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Lions pick Watson sweetly hits back at 'badmouthing' Stephen Jones

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Lions tour back-rower Hamish Watson has hit back at last April’s newspaper criticism by Sunday Times rugby correspondent Stephen Jones who claimed that the Six Nations player of the tournament was too small to play for Warren Gatland’s team. The soon-to-be 30-year-old flanker had blazed a championship trail with the much-improved Scotland, helping them to much-admired away wins versus England and France.

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Those performances generated a huge public momentum for Watson to get chosen to tour South Africa but one journalist attempted to shoot down the Scottish player’s credentials by claiming: “Lightweight Hamish Watson is no match for the Springboks. The Scotland flanker may be the best in the Six Nations but he shouldn’t be on the Lions tour.”

As it turned out, Watson was picked to tour by Gatland and he went on to feature in the first Test as a second-half replacement when the Lions defeated the Springboks in Cape Town. That selection was very much one in the eye of the critics who reckoned that the Scotland forward was too small for that type of an international stage.

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Matt Dawson and Mike Brown on their favourite rugby memories
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Matt Dawson and Mike Brown on their favourite rugby memories

The thing is, though, Watson has now admitted he never knew who Jones was until the controversy erupted in the wake of last April’s “he’s too small to tour” article, quipping that he initially thought it was ex-Wales out-half Stephen Jones who had taken a pop at his size and not a seasoned journalist who has long been on the rugby media circuit.

Watson was appearing on the first episode of the new RugbyPass Offload season in the company of Ryan Wilson and Max Lahiff when the criticism from Jones was read out to him, prompting his amusing reaction about how he hadn’t a clue who the journalist in question was.

“When I saw a lot of stuff coming through on my social media I had no idea who Stephen Jones is,” said Watson on the show less than six weeks after the Lions tour ended in a 2-1 Test series defeat to the Springboks. “I thought it was the old Wales 10 badmouthing me and I thought that was just weird from another rugby player. I don’t really care about the opinion, to be honest. He has done his job because he is a journalist and it is what it is blown into.

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“Anyone who has played me on the field, without being an arse, anyone who knows me, sees the stuff in the gym and all that sort, people know it [the article] is a load of rubbish. It’s just funny how stuff like that has suddenly spiralled into stuff like this and people having debates on podcasts. That is him well played I guess but do I care about his opinion? Not really.”

Watson was similarly unruffled by the infamous post-first Test video rant by Rassie Erasmus, the South African director of rugby, who is now facing a World Rugby misconduct charge for his criticism of the match officials. “I didn’t actually watch it, I saw little snippets,” continued the Lions forward.

“I’m sure the coaching staff watched it. The reaction in camp was just to let him get on with his business, he is focusing on the wrong thing. For me personally, I found it quite funny all the stuff he was saying. The fact of the matter is anyone can do what he did and go through 80 minutes of rugby and pick out probably 100 penalties that didn’t get seen.

“Whether people like it or not, that is rugby. There are going to be so many little penalties, so many yellow cards, even red cards that people miss and that is the game. What he did I suppose any coach could do after a game and any coach could vent like that after a game. But I didn’t hold anything against him. I thought it was quite comical, to be honest.”

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Lions pick Watson sweetly hits back at 'badmouthing' Stephen Jones

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