Hamish Watson was just out of his teens and in his first season in Edinburgh’s senior squad when, under Michael Bradley, the club achieved the greatest feat of any professional Scottish team since the sport went open when they reached the Heineken Cup semi-final.

It was a campaign packed with drama, not least an epic encounter with Racing Metro in their first home match which swung hugely in both directions before Edinburgh registered what proved a crucial 48-47 win, putting them on course to finish top of their pool – the only time a Scottish team has done so – and earning them a home quarter-final against Toulouse.

As Bradley, now head coach of an apparently improving Zebre side, prepares to return to the Scottish capital on competitive duty for the first time since his sacking, less than a year after the narrow semi-final defeat by Ulster, Watson consequently believes he has some idea of what to expect.

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“We know a bit about him, he likes to chuck the ball around,” said the 25-year-old, who has now established himself as a leading figure in the international squad. They play a lot of attacking rugby so it’s going to be a very tough game. It’s a must win game already to get our season back on track.”

His memory is clearly of something similar in terms of Bradley’s approach.

“Obviously I was a young lad in the squad back then,” Watson said of his time under the Irishman.

“I played a fair few games under him and I thought he was a good coach. His attacking style of play suited us at the time. It was maybe our defence that let us down at times and obviously he was an attack coach. Zebre’s attack will be pretty good so we are going to have to look out for their attack.”

Yet it is tempting to wonder whether the memory has played a few tricks, which would hardly be surprising given all that has gone on in the interim, with Watson now playing under his fifth head coach in six years at the club.

Steve Scott and Duncan Hodge had an interim spell in charge on Bradley’s departure ahead of Alan Solomons’ three years in charge, before Hodge temporarily took the helm once more last season ahead of current boss Richard Cockerill’s appointment. It has all been a bit of a whirl.

Looking back, then, it is perhaps cautionary to offer a reminder that while Edinburgh did play some thrilling attacking rugby there were, during that 2011-12 European campaign, also some heroic backs-to-the-wall efforts, notably when they hung on in the final quarter to win by a point in their opener at London Irish and also when they put in a fine defensive effort against Toulouse in a quarter-final which saw them register their only try just a couple of minutes into the game.

What may have slightly influenced how Watson looks back on that time, though, is the renewed emphasis Edinburgh are placing on defence this season since Calum (Kitty) MacRae joined them after an impressive spell as Scotland’s sevens coach.

That served them well in the opening weeks of the season as they ground out a rare win at Cardiff Blues, then beat the Dragons at Myreside. Admittedly there was the sort of lapse that has blighted the club when they met Treviso three weeks ago, but since then their defence has again performed well in defeat on visits to two of the strongest teams in the Pro14, defending champions the Scarlets and Leinster who have won the competition more often than any other side.

In overall terms Edinburgh are probably where they would historically have been expected to be at this stage of the season with two wins and three losses for all that, in terms of individual results, the win in Cardiff and defeat at home to Treviso were both surprises.

However as they prepare to head into another European campaign which is in itself evocative of 2011-12 since they open up with a trip to London Irish – albeit in the second tier Challenge Cup this time around - this meeting with Bradley’s Zebre now looks like being an ideal test of their readiness, the Italian club that has, in six attempts, only once avoided finishing bottom of the Pro12 when ending the 2015/16 season in 11th spot, having beaten the Southern Kings in South Africa then beaten Ulster in the past fortnight.

In particular the fact that they have scored 16 tries, six more than Edinburgh, so far this season, suggests that MacRae’s defensive systems and the players’ resolve will be tested at some stage, but only the top two in each Pro14 conference have conceded fewer tries than the 10 Edinburgh have let in this season breeding renewed confidence.

“I think he (MacRae) has brought good tempo and brought a lot of line speed,” was Watson’s assessment.

“We are looking pretty physical. Under Pete (Wilkins, their previous defence coach) over the last few seasons we did turn into a low chop team but Kitty has reinforced that.

“Obviously a few years ago we were high tackling and slowing the ball down that way, but Kitty has a big emphasis on tackling low and getting our jackalers on the ball and getting lots of steals. So far this season I think we have been getting quite a lot of return on that, boys getting hands on the ball and winning penalties at crucial times so it’s been working so far.”