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During the 1980s Scotland possessed an abundance of excellent back row forwards, including the Calder brothers Jim and Finlay, John Jeffrey, Ian Paxton, David Leslie and of course John Beattie, now one of the game’s top commentator/summarisers. His ability as a rugby player aside, John set a perfect example of how a person can maintain their sense of perspective in the face of extreme personal misfortune and start again from scratch to achieve new ambitions. In John’s case it was a run of debilitating injuries that forced him to miss many games and would eventually end his career when he was at his peak. Beattie made his debut in 1980 at the age of 23 in a 22-15 loss to Ireland, and went on to feature in all of Scotland’s other Championship games that year. John’s performances earned him a call up to the British Lions squad to tour South Africa, but the Lions were well served up front and his services were not required in the tests. The 1981 season saw Scotland improve on the year before and won two games from two, but John did not feature in any international rugby the year after. 1983 was a mixed year for Scotland, but they were able to record a rare win over England at Twickenham (22-12), a match in which John was part of a training ground move that saw half back Roy Laidlaw score from a scrum after the forwards had created a huge blind side channel. Beattie would later recall “To be fair to England, it wasn’t one of their better sides. But crucially, we all thought we were going to win. What I will always remember though, is that we were like little country boys visiting London for the first time.” John was also a Lion once again, and made his only test appearance as a replacement for Iain Paxton in the 9-0 second test defeat against the All Blacks in Wellington. All New Zealand’s points in the first half came through Dave Loveridge and Alan Hewson, but the Lions were unable to build on their rock solid defence and blew an excellent chance of victory. However, later in the year, John was part of the season ahead.
The year of 1984 was Scotland’s Grand Slam season, but unfortunately for John he only played a minor part having earlier shattered his kneecap in training and made just one substitute appearance in an 18-6 win against England. However, perseverance will out and he was back to face Romania and Australia later in same year. The test against Romania was won 28-22 in the cauldron of Bucharest, but the Grand Slam champions were given a lesson in modern rugby by the Australians at Murrayfield and lost 37-12. Still struggling slightly, John made just one appearance in 1985, against Ireland, but played in all four games the year after as Scotland shared the Championship with France. Amongst Scotland’s three victories were a 33-6 drubbing of England and a nailbiting 18-17 win over France. The victory over England was one of Scotland’s greatest ever performances, and was made all the sweeter given the arrogant boasts of their opponents in the lead up. Indeed, an article in the Edinburgh Evening News stated that England were so superior up front that Scotland may as well not bother turning up. The article was the proverbial red rag to a bull, or in this case a rag to a White Shark….. Indeed, at Scotland’s Friday night team gathering before the match, John Jeffrey (the “White Shark” in question) threw the newspaper across the room in a statement of intent. No words were needed. The tone for the match was set from the first 22 drop-out when Beattie cleaned out none other than Maurice Colclough, himself one of the hardest nuts in the game. Scotland proceeded to outplay, outtackle and outrun the English on every part of the field and scored tries through Matt Duncan, John Rutherford and Scott Hastings, with brother Gavin piling on the misery by landing eight out of eight kicks at goal. Scotland’s captain Colin Deans would later recall of the performance that “We were on such a high we could have played another eighty minutes easily.” Now at the peak of his game, the 1987 season promised much for John, having captained his side on a pre season tour to Spain, thus putting himself in the frame for the job full time. Then, seven years after making his debut, John finally scored his first international try in an exciting defeat by France, and chipped in with another against Wales in the very next game. Just when it was all going so well, Beattie’s world was shattered in the final match against England when he sustained a knee injury just seconds into the second half of a 21-12 defeat. The injury signalled the end of John’s career and denied him not only the possible captaincy of Scotland, but also the chance to play in the inaugural World Cup in Australia/New Zealand. However, as with so many high achievers, Beattie did not dwell for too long on his misfortune and set himself new goals. Indeed, John went on to make a name as a writer and broadcaster, and headed up a special taskforce aimed at improving the health of the Scottish nation.