JOHNNIE BEATTIE believes a new star will be launched on to the international rugby scene at Murrayfield today with 22-year-old back row colleague Rob Harley making a first Scotland start against Italy.
Beattie, 27, recalls Harley coming through the ranks at the West club where his dad, John Beattie snr, was coach.
“The thing that struck me straightaway about Rob was his physical size and presence,” said Beattie. “I remember watching him in a pack at West which had other apprentices (subsequently capped) in Jon Welsh, Richie Gray and Richie Vernon. But I can go back further because I saw Rob playing a sevens or tens tournament for his school and he was phenomenal.”
The pair were team-mates at Glasgow until Beattie moved to Montpellier last summer where his career has been rejuvenated.
“I love playing with Rob, you know exactly what you are going to get with his workrate and his drive. Rob just makes it a scramble for the opposition on the deck. He is a traditional flanker and a great boy,” added Beattie.
Much will depend on the blend of the Scottish back row today because what was evident from last week’s RBS Six Nations defeat by England at Twickenham was the need to tie in the loose ball more quickly and set up a platform for the backs.
Although interim coach Scott Johnson was playing cards close to his chest as to whether Harley or captain Kelly Brown would be handed the open-side role, recent performances with Glasgow suggested the former is well suited.
Beattie agreed. “Training runs have gone well and although, obviously, it was unopposed, work standards have been good. We have to get our first three phases correct and after that let our phase play dictate. If we do that we’ll be in with a shout.”
Scotland’s misfortune at Twickenham was summed up in the closing moments when the bounce of a ball eluded Beattie with the English try-line unguarded 70 metres away.
Instead of getting within a single score of the lead entering the home straight, the margin widened to 20 points with England getting the final say.
“That was incredibly frustrating and symptomatic of our day,” reflected Beattie. “I was quite close (to catching the ball) but while it was one little thing that might have happened ultimately it was not something we really created ourselves.
“If we can keep the ball a little bit longer and pressure sides I’d be happier.”
Beattie’s previous engagement with England in 2010 ended in a draw and saw him take man-of-the-match honours. The latest instalment was a different experience.
“I didn’t really take too much out of last week’s game other than some individuals like Hoggy (Stuart Hogg) shone.
“As a team we were nowhere near the level we needed to be.
“It’s nice to come back into the side but there’s no point if we go out and play like we did last time as a team.
“We made England look like world beaters.”
Directly opposing Beattie at No. 8 this afternoon will be Sergio Parisse, the Italy skipper, and doubtless Beattie would give much for a similar outcome to when the pair faced each other in a club match recently.
“That was five or six weeks ago and Montpellier put 50 points past Stade Français.
“That outcome was determined by so many factors, though, and in the case of Italy four or five years ago it might have been that if you stopped Parisse you stopped the team playing.
“That would be disrespectful now and, for example, (flanker) Zanni is a very good player.
“Is Sergio does not go forward there are three or four others who can, and we must make sure we chop them down.
“Italy are definitely more and more competitive in every area.
“They are striding on with guys – and not just Parisse – playing to a high level in various competitions.”
On two occasions Beattie has been passed over for a World Cup berth so, as the 2015 tournament in England looms nearer, is that a goal now that he is back in the team for the first time since August 2011?
“To be in the picture for the next World Cup would be great but there is plenty to do first.”
Nevertheless, although it is almost two years since Scotland won a Six Nations contest, the bookmakers have them slight favourites to end the drought.