How Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie emerged as Scotland's top ‘jackals’

Some feared the day of the jackal was over when new breakdown guidelines were introduced this year. But Scotland have adapted admirably, and in Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie they have two of the finest exponents of the dark art.

Jamie Ritchie, left, and Hamish Watson have adapted quickly to the new breakdown guidelines. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Jamie Ritchie, left, and Hamish Watson have adapted quickly to the new breakdown guidelines. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Judging by the victory in Wales last month, Gregor Townsend’s side have taken the changes in their stride, winning the key breakdown battles in a match from which the visiting forwards emerged with huge credit.

The ‘jackal’-style stripping of the ball from defenders is seen as the cause of a large number of injuries, with players’ backs and necks vulnerable to strong impacts.

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In an attempt to mitigate the risk, fresh guidelines were issued for players and referees around rucks and the breakdown, aimed at speeding up the contact area.

Jamie Ritchie was man of the match in Scotland's win in Wales. Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Those who’ve failed to adapt have been punished with a slew of penalties but Townsend’s flankers have got to grips with new interpretations.

“I don’t think we have had to change what we do too much,” said Watson, the Scotland openside, ahead of Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup opener against Italy. “You need a bit more speed to the breakdown and you have to be more careful when you are attacking.

“The main thing is to show upward motion. When you are on the ball you have to make more of an effort to pull it away from the body instead of just hanging in there.”

His partner in crime, Ritchie, turned in a man-of-the-match performance in Llanelli, continuing a run of form which has seen the blindside evolve into a cornerstone of Townsend’s side.

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“In attack you have to be so quick on to the ball,” said Watson. “It’s all about speed to contact now. We see how quickly refs are giving penalties.

“For me and Jamie I think it has been really good. It’s good to have a 6 who also likes jackaling. If I’m not quite getting the penalties or having a bit of an off day with the ref then it is great to have Jamie there. Down in Wales he got three jackal turnovers so it’s good that we can both have a crack at it.”

Watson has not been surprised by his Edinburgh team-mate’s progress.

“I’m there with him at training every day and I see how hard he trains and how hard he works. It’s not hard for me to believe how well he’s doing. Full credit to him – he’s playing really well at the moment and I enjoy playing with him. It’s good for Scotland, good for the team.”

Ritchie is one of two Scotland vice-captains (Ali Price is the other) and Watson can see him stepping up to the top job, given his leadership qualities.

“I don’t know what he was like when he was younger but I hear that he was really good at under-20s and was always a leader there as well,” said Watson.

“He is a young lad but he is one of the leaders of this team now. Who knows – he may be a future Scotland captain. He just has to keep his head down, keep working and who knows what he will achieve.”

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