COMPARING players from different eras is a tricky business in any sport. When it comes to rugby union, which has yet to complete 20 years as a professional sport, it is virtually impossible – and Johnnie Beattie, for one, prefers not to undertake the exercise.
The Montpellier back-row forward will win his 26th cap today against Australia, surpassing the total earned by his father John. But, asked if that makes him a better player, he insisted he had always been far more interested in trying to emulate his father’s achievements than in attempting to prove himself superior.
“I’ve never compared myself to my dad,” said Beattie junior, who, at 28, could go on to rack up a half-century of caps. “I don’t want to be a better international player than him. He’s had his career: a very, very good career.
“For me, though, it was always a little milestone in my mind. Not something I would openly share with other people, but your dad is always someone you look up to.
“I know we play in different generations and there are more Tests per calendar year now, so maybe it’s slightly easier. I’m sure he’d say that.
“But it’s nice to have matched the number that my dad got to. His career is something to emulate, that’s all. It just so happens I work in the same field as him, do the same job. So to reach 25 caps, the same amount he got to, was something.
“It was nice, having equalled his mark on Sunday, to get a text afterwards saying my mum and dad were out toasting the achievement together. That was cool.”
Beattie senior’s last appearance for the national team was in 1987, when his son had yet to celebrate his second birthday. John junior therefore has no personal memories from which to assess how good his father was – and in any case, does not see the point in having what would be a very hypothetical competition.
“My dad has had his career, a fantastic career in an amateur era, when things were very different – and they probably had a lot more fun. We now have a career in rugby, which is something he would have loved. I enjoy my rugby, he enjoyed his rugby. It doesn’t bother me when comparisons are made, because I have no idea. I can’t remember my dad playing – I know he did great things for Scotland in the past. Absolutely, though, I take it as a compliment if I’m ever compared to him.
“We’re not really competitive away from rugby. We’re both terrible at golf – it’s just for joy.”
That spirit of co-operation rather than competition extends to Beattie’s younger sister Jenny – who, incidentally, has surpassed both of her male relatives and already won more than 70 caps for Scotland at football. “When we were younger, I had my group of mates in the local area and she would come down to kick a ball around with us at the park,” he said of his sister, now 22.
“It was cool for me. I got to look after my little sister and she wanted to come and play football with my mates. That was something completely different for her.
“But we were never competitive. She was the younger sister, learning and having a laugh playing football down the park. Obviously it developed into something completely different for her.”
It did indeed. After playing for Queen’s Park and Celtic, Jenny moved to Arsenal in 2009. Having decided to move on again this summer, she accepted the offer of a contract from Montpellier, living with her brother for a month while looking for a flat of her own.
“She had quite a few options last summer, actually, but the former president of the rugby club is now president of the women’s side of the football club,” Johnnie explained. “He called me up randomly, six months ago, saying: ‘We’re looking for a centre back, we’ve seen that your sister has this profile, she’s played this amount of times for Scotland, would she like to come over and play for Montpellier?’
“Coincidentally, Jenny had just been out visiting with a few of her football mates. It was 30 degrees and she was on the beach every day, thinking: ‘I could get used to this.’
‘So that was her convinced. She signed up for two years and, up until now, she’s thoroughly enjoying it.”
Johnnie’s season has been less enjoyable so far, as a large chunk of it has been devoted to recovering from injury. But he made his comeback off the bench against the Springboks last weekend, and starts this afternoon against the Wallabies, aiming to repay head coach Scott Johnson’s confidence in him.
“I’ve barely played,” he said. “I came back from [Scotland’s summer tour to] South Africa with an AC joint injury, got fit and played three games, then on the third game I tore my pec. That was eight weeks ago now, so last week was my first rugby in seven or eight weekends.
“I didn’t think I would be asked to come back at all, having played no rugby. The 30 minutes last week was a great vote of confidence, and this weekend it will be great to be involved.”