Six Nations: Johnnie Beattie on Test return

JOHNNIE Beattie could be forgiven for believing that, even in defeat, the Calcutta Cup provided some form of rejuvenation, but the big No 8 was having none of it on the eve of the second match in the RBS Six Nations Championship.

Beattie lost the faith of Glasgow coach Sean Lineen early last year and so Andy Robinson in the national context, and he left for Montpellier in France hoping to prove doubters wrong but aware that his Scotland days may be behind him. So to return and be one of Scotland’s better players in his first Test match in 18 months should have brought some positive feelings.

Speaking yesterday, however, Beattie just shook his head.

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“I didn’t take too much from it,” he said. “Some individuals, like [Stuart] Hoggy, played well, but as a team we were nowhere near the level that we need to be to win international rugby matches.

“It has been fantastic to be asked to come back, and great seeing family and friends and the boys in the squad, but there’s no real point in coming back if we then play like that as a team. It’s not a nice feeling. All the feelings I had about coming back were lost, which makes it pretty pointless.

“We didn’t get the ball away from scrums and our lineout didn’t function as we wanted it to, so straight away we were on the back foot, giving the backs pretty guff ball, which didn’t give them much chance.

“I thought we were extremely poor in our attack and it made things very easy for England to defend. We made them look like world beaters. But we can change it. We didn’t do our jobs last week so if we can do them this week it should make things a hell of a lot easier.”

Beattie has more knowledge than most of the talismanic figure in the Italian camp, Sergio Parisse, the world-class No 8 who makes his 93rd Test appearance today. But the Scot also warned against under-estimating those around the 29-year-old. “I played against him, Stade Francais, a few weeks ago and we managed to put 50 points past them.

“But I’m not going to man mark him around the pitch. I’m going to do my job. Obviously, he is an important component. He calls their lineouts and he very much calls things towards him. He has won a number of man of the match awards in the Six Nations on account of calling 80-90 per cent of the lineouts to himself.

“He is a very good ball-carrier, but every back row player in the tournament is. That [focusing on Parisse] could have been the case four or five years ago, but that’s pretty disrespectful to the Italian side now. They have come on massively.

“There’s no doubt that he has thrived on the responsibility placed on him in the past, but you play against superstars in every competition. There’s no point in getting het up about one bloke.”

Another old stereotype assigned to the Italians was that they could fire up the passions in front of a home support, but would fall apart on the road. It was with good reason as Italy remain the least successful team away from home in the championship, their 2007 victory at Murrayfield the only one to date, but Beattie expects that to change soon.

“No. Interestingly, in France, players see it differently away from home. They see different pressures, while I love playing on different grounds and seeing different parts of the world. It’s exciting.

“But I don’t think Italy will be holding anything back. They are definitely much more competitive in every area and the level of their professional rugby is going up. It’s the same for a lot of countries – you look at Argentina. They are striding on. It’s great that a lot of guys are playing to a high level in various competitions.

“We’ve lost to them [Italy] a few times and now France have lost to them twice, so they are now an exciting and very capable team.”