Six Nations: Johnnie Beattie wants Twickenham win

Johnnie Beattie wants Scotland to throw everything at England. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Johnnie Beattie wants Scotland to throw everything at England. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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THE last time Scotland won at Twickenham, a Beattie wore the No 8 jersey and a Laidlaw the No 9.

The same surnames will be on the same jerseys tomorrow, as Johnnie Beattie and Greig Laidlaw seek to emulate their father John and uncle Roy respectively in winning the Calcutta Cup on English soil – and that will not be the only similarity with the previous victory in 1983.

If he were superstitious, Beattie might have regarded the family connection as a good omen. If inclined to clutch at straws, he could have chosen any trivial coincidence to suggest that the fates were propitious.

Instead, when asked if the ‘83 result had any relevance to this RBS Six Nations Championship game, he chose a fact which many Scots, players and supporters alike, would regard as daunting. “If you speak to the players from then, they felt they had absolutely no chance,” he said. “I think most people would give us a slim to no chance.

“But you just chuck everything at it and hope to be perfect. We have to be spot on with everything we do and make them look very average. That’s a very tough thing to do in professional rugby. But that’s the aim.”

A realist in his assessment of why rugby matches unfold as they do, Beattie does not look for any quirky explanation for why Scotland have done so badly at Twickenham these past 30 years. It’s a numbers game: England have more players from which to select, and if they get their selection right and those players live up to their form, they should win.

“Different people have different views about the challenge of going to Twickenham,” Beattie continued. “When you talk to my father and his pals who played in that game, they’re embarrassed that the record still stands.

“But if you look at the situation the two nations are in, the strength in depth England have is an issue. The last time England played, they beat the world champions, New Zealand. The last time we played, we lost to Tonga at Pittodrie.

“That’s where the two teams are at the moment, or where we’ve been in the past six months. We’re under no illusions over the scale of the challenge.

“There is a reason why we haven’t won there for so long. It’s not necessarily the strength of the team – but the strength of the nations behind the teams.

“Look at the sheer volume of players that are in England and everything else that goes with it. But it’s a tired old cliché to say that rugby is a game of 15 people and, given a chance, you can turn over anybody – as England did with New Zealand.”

Not that long ago, Beattie appeared to have little chance of being involved in tomorrow’s game. A combination of injuries and falling out of favour at Glasgow had restricted his chances of international involvement. But a move to Montpellier in the summer has produced a revival of form, and the introduction of a new national coaching team has given him - and a few others - the opportunity to make a new start.

“Scott [Johnson] has his own views on players. I spoke to Robbo [former coach Andy Robinson] before the Autumn Tests and I had only played two matches at that point.

“He was pleased with how I had played so far, but said it was too early to recall me. Maybe with a change of coaches, [Johnson] is wanting to freshen things up.

“From where I was, I’d been at Glasgow and Edinburgh – but hadn’t played any rugby, really, for near enough six months. When you’re getting to the end of a contract, as I was, you wonder who’s going to pick you up when you’ve not played for such a long time, and it’s obvious that someone has lost faith in you?

“I found myself in that situation and I’ve got a huge amount of gratitude for everyone at Montpellier, because it has given me a new lease of life. It is very, very different, it has to be said – especially in the south of France, where the game is very much in the forefront of people’s minds.

“The differences for me have been getting exposure to a different culture and environment. But I’m still the same bloke I was six months or a year ago, when I played in this country. It’s just a different style of play, a different club, and I’ve been given a chance to play week in, week out.”

Contrary to the British perception of French rugby as being obsessed with flair and off-the-cuff play, the 27-year-old has found the game there to be more disciplined. “It’s very structured, very coached, so there is no room for error. And everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

“With Glasgow, I was symptomatic of the collective – we could be great one week, horrendous the next. With Montpellier, you’re there to win a game every week.

“It’s definitely more structured, even though it looks as though it’s all flair. It’s been a complete eye-opener, because I thought it was all natural ability. There is absolutely no difference in the ability of players there.”

One difference for the Beattie family tomorrow will be the absence of John from the BBC’s coverage of the game. Beattie senior will be at the game, all right, but the fact he will not be present in an official capacity may just allow him to be more partisan. And of course, it will also allow him to begin the celebrations instantly if the away team do pull off their first win at the venue in three decades,

“He said that if I was to be involved, he wanted to take a step back,” Beattie junior explained. “I was quite disappointed, because for me it’s been the status quo, and I’ve quite enjoyed having him there. But it means he’ll be able to enjoy the game more.

“The whole 1983 party who won at Twickenham is going down this weekend. They might even have a few beers. It would be nice for us to win and hopefully change that little bit of history.”