JOHNNIE Beattie celebrated his 29th birthday yesterday. Well, I say celebrated, but that probably entailed little more than an extra protein shake before a video debrief and bed at half ten. Such is the life of the professional athlete.
The No 8 has been around the block and the national squad long enough to take his elevation to the Scotland XV with his customary sang froid. Not to say the Castres’ breakaway isn’t excited about starting, just to point out that he has seen the flip side of the coin often enough to not start counting his chickens. After all, he missed out on RWC’11 when he fell from favour with Andy Robinson, so perhaps that is the motivation he needs to impress Vern Cotter today and ensure he participates in next year’s shindig.
“I wasn’t in Robbo’s plans,” Beattie recalls. “I didn’t make the 60-man [training] squad! You can see how quickly things can change and I am no stranger to that. Things can change very quickly so I am under no illusions how hard I have to work to be retained by this coaching team and the effort I have to put in. I would love to be involved [in RWC’15] but rugby is a funny old game.
“In the life of a professional rugby player you see injuries all the time, players in and out, coaches change their views on you. I think I have been in and out of the squad for ten years under different coaches. So for me it is a chance to impress Vern and to impress my team-mates, to lead and the end result is to try to be retained.
“He [Cotter] has given me goals to try and stay within the match 23, in the 30, the [wider] training group.
“There are things I have to go out and do for my team-mates in order to be retained and to have a chance to be part of what I think could be a good time for Scotland.”
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Much has been made of the depth of second row talent at Cotter’s disposal but Beattie is in the fiercest battle of all for the No 8 shirt in which five big beasts all hope to start the big World Cup battles; Beattie, Adam Ashe, David Denton, Ryan Wilson and the South African recruit Josh Strauss. Some very good players are going to be watching the action from the sitting room sofa.
At least falling out with Robinson meant that Beattie missed the Tongan match in 2012 when the Scots lost for the first time in history to the island nation. Brought back by Cotter in the summer, the No 8 got on to the pitch for the final half hour against the All Blacks last weekend and did little wrong. But playing at Murrayfield in front of a capacity crowd is a little different to Rugby Park’s 18,000 fans. And on a plastic pitch!
“That was the first time I have been back at Murrayfield since we lost to England in the Six Nations when we got humped 20-0,” says Beattie with an involuntary wince at the memory. “We showed absolutely nothing and produced absolutely nothing and could not create anything for our fans to get behind us to enjoy. So I think in that space of time to go from where we have been to where we are now has been great. It is encouraging but the important thing is we keep working on what we have been given, the simple things Cotter has given us, retain them and keep getting better.
“The [plastic] pitch is really, really hard. The boys were saying by comparison to Saracens’ ground and Cardiff’s that it is much harder. It is hard to keep your feet. Everyone will have to work hard to keep up at scrum time and at rucks and stay on our feet and not give away stupid penalties.
“For technical things like that we have to keep our feet and it was important to get our team run.”
The Beattie family don’t have happy memories of Rugby Park. Sister Jenny played for the Scottish women’s football team a few years back and lost heavily to Italy. Family honour requires brother Johnnie better his little sister’s result against Tonga today…and maybe then he’ll celebrate his birthday in style.
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