It is a good job for Bath, and ultimately England, that Anthony Watson has put more effort into his recovery from injury than he did into Christmas tree shopping with his girlfriend.
Watson has needed to be dedicated and disciplined on the road back to the Bath first team, but he was a little lacking in festive spirit as he hunted for the perfect tree with partner, Alyse.
Head coach Eddie Jones hints he will leave the England job when his contract ends in 2019, regardless of the team’s World Cup showing.
“I’ve been stitched up,” he tells ESPN when we call the England wing in mid-December.
“She wants a real one. I don’t get the whole craic with it, I just get a fake one and take that down and put it up every year. But it’s something about the smell.
“I’m into the lazy stuff, me. Anything that will make my life any easier is definitely worth it.”
Watson’s frustration at traipsing around a garden centre on a chilly winter evening is heightened by the two months he has spent on the sidelines with a broken jaw.
He suffered the injury during England’s ill-fated October training camp in Brighton, and has been forced to watch on from the gym as his in-form teammates slugged it out on the training pitch.
The nature of the injury has only compounded Watson’s exasperation. “It’s not something you can feel on a day-to-day basis, or something you go out there and think ‘Oh it’s not quite right so there’s not actually any way I could play’,” he says.
“It’s just something that you’ve got to let heal and when it’s 100 percent ready, go and put yourself back out there.”
The risk of a re-fracture has ensured that Bath have adopted a safety-first approach in coaxing their star back to health, and the first team, but a return to action is finally on the horizon.
Watson is unlikely to feature for Bath against Wasps at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday as two of the Aviva Premiership’s top three go head-to-head. But he is hopeful of facing Exeter on Dec. 31.
Watson broke his jaw while at an England training camp in early October. David Rogers/Getty Images
“I’m just really looking forward to getting back playing,” Watson, who was promoting The Clash at Twickenham on April 8, says.
“It’s been frustrating but I’ve been able to do some stuff to alleviate the time and hopefully that will allow me to come back a better player too.”
In his absence Bath have made a strong start to the season, winning eight of their 10 Premiership games to banish the memories of Mike Ford’s disappointing final season in charge.
Many of the plaudits for the side’s success have gone to Todd Blackadder, the former All Black parachuted in to replace Ford on the eve of the new season.
But Watson believes the team’s form stems as much from the work the squad put in over preseason, under first team coaches Toby Booth and Darren Edwards.
“All the boys got close to each other, grafted through preseason and the coaches we had at the time — Boothy and Darren Edwards — were outstanding for us in that period,” he says.
“We knew we couldn’t control signing a coach so we just had to control what we could which was grafting and working hard every training session, and trying to not get a repeat of last season.
“So, it’s been good for us so far but we just need to keep the wins coming, and hopefully come May time we’ll be in that Premiership final again where we rightly should be.”
Watson adds: “I wouldn’t say there has been a drastic change [under Blackadder]. The style of rugby we play is a little bit similar.
“We’ve just managed to graft out wins that I think we would have lost last year, so I think that’s testament to the boys who have put in the hard work.”
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