Six Nations: Scotland feel spirit of '83 a generation on

Laidlaw and Beattie could emulate efforts of their relatives by winning at Twickenham on Saturday, writes Simon Turnbull

When Scott Johnson announces his first Scotland starting XV at Murrayfield tomorrow, ahead of the Six Nations opener against England at Twickenham on Saturday, the chances are that the team sheet will show a J Beattie at 8 and a Laidlaw at 9. It was the same when Scotland last beat England on English soil.

That was back on 5 March 1983. John Beattie and Roy Laidlaw formed the 8-9 axis as a Scotland team captained by the Gala prop Jim Aitken achieved a 22-12 success that was followed on BBC 1 by The Dukes of Hazzard and Jim'll Fix It.

Thirty years on, the Scots will almost certainly be striving to fix their historical Twickenham hitch with Beattie's son, Johnnie, at 8, and with Laidlaw's nephew, Greig (below) at scrum-half. That would, at least, be two-fifteenths of the way towards recreating the Caledonian spirit of '83.

"The team's yet to be picked, but, yes, it would be strange," John Beattie pondered yesterday. "It would have no bearing on the result but it would be strange and wonderful and all the rest of it.

"I knew Roy's brother way back in our playing days and young Greig is his son. It just shows what a small rugby pool there is in Scotland."

It also shows that Johnson, appointed as Scotland's interim head coach following the departure of Andy Robinson, was not just being his impish, provocative Aussie self at the Six Nations launch last week when he drew attention to the huge disparity in playing resources between the Scots and their British neighbours.

Scotland's replacement scrum-half when their autumn of anguish came to an end with a 21-15 defeat against Tonga in Aberdeen in November was Rory Lawson – son of Alan Lawson, the current president of the Scottish Rugby Union who famously bagged two tries as scrum-half in the 1976 Calcutta Cup win at Murrayfield, with his father-in-law Bill McLaren describing the action in the BBC television commentary box.

As it happened, John Beattie was the man behind the BBC microphone for Scotland's last match, the occasion that proved to be Robinson's last stand. The 55-year-old, who won 25 caps for his country and made two Lions tours, has established himself as one of Scotland's leading broadcasters, hosting the lunchtime show on BBC Radio Scotland and co-hosting the excellent Sport Nation magazine show on radio and television north of the border.

Now that his 27-year-old son has played his way back into the national squad after an 18-month absence, however, Beattie has decided to step back from rugby broadcasting duties. Tuesday's Sport Nation preview of the Six Nations on BBC Two Scotland will be his swansong on that front.

"As a commentator and a pundit you've got to be completely neutral," he said, "and I'm finding it really hard to be neutral as a father of one of the boys in the squad – and also knowing that all these boys are his friends and having coached a few of them myself, too.

"You can't end up being behind the microphone going, 'Whoah, I know half these lads, and I like them – I genuinely like these people. It would be difficult to say, 'Oh, his line was squint' or 'That was a bad pass.' I find it increasingly hard. And I don't want anything I say to cause any problems between the other players and my son.

"Also, I never wanted to be known as the father who talked his son up. You've got be very careful. When I was a chartered accountant there was a thing called conflict of interest. And I had a conflict of interest here."

Beattie Snr will co-present the radio version of the Sport Nation show from London on Saturday morning but then, instead of taking his usual place in the radio or television section at Twickenham, he will join up with the rest of the Caledonian class of '83 to watch the match as a free-to-be-biased spectator and father.

Roy Laidlaw will be there, too, having set off from Edinburgh's Waverley Station at 6.30am on Saturday on a Twickenham reunion trip organised by Aitken. The bright spark of a Jedburgh electrician formed a brilliant half-back partnership with John Rutherford in the Scotland team that, with the rampaging Beattie at the back of the pack, proceeded to hold the All Blacks to a 25-25 draw at Murrayfield in the autumn of 1983 and then swept to a Five Nations Grand Slam in 1984. He plundered the first of Scotland's two tries at Twickenham in March 1983.

"They dig it out and show it every two years when the Calcutta Cup game is down at Twickenham," Laidlaw said. "The fact that we haven't won there for 30 years tells its own story. It's going to be a hard mission for Scotland again this time."

It's a mission that Scotland seem certain to embark on with a Laidlaw in the No 9 shirt for the first time since Roy won the last of his 47 caps in 1988. Greig has played scrum-half for his country only as a replacement before. Last season he switched to outside-half but, following the retirement of Mike Blair, Johnson sees him as his first-choice scrum-half.

"Credit to Greig for playing both positions at such a high level," his uncle said. "But he grew up as a scrum-half and I think, for his physical size, scrum-half's a far better position for him to play at international level ... We're obviously all very proud of him."

The feeling is mutual. "My Uncle Roy's been a huge influence," Greig said. "My whole family's a big rugby family and he's the pinnacle of that. I've seen the try he scored at Twickenham on video a few times over the years.

"You know, Scotland had a great team back in the day. Those guys who played back then showed what Scotland was all about and we need to emulate that in the modern era, because those boys put their bodies on the line. They would have died playing for Scotland, and that's something we have to bring to the party."

It was that kind of performance that earned Scotland their last win on the road in the Six Nations, against Ireland at Croke Park in 2010. Johnnie Beattie was at his best that night, knocking back what seemed half of the Emerald Isle to score a try.

Since then, the athletic No 8 has suffered a serious shoulder injury and endured a fall from favour at club level, with Glasgow. A summer move to the French Top 14 with Montpellier, however, has brought him back to the very top of his form.

"I knew that if things were going to get better for me, I had to make a change in my life and where I was playing," Beattie Jnr said. "I always wanted to play in France and when the chance came along I leapt at it."

But what about the chance to follow in dad's footsteps and take a giant leap for Scotland at Twickenham this coming Saturday? "It's a long, long time since we won there," John Beattie's son said, "so it's an opportunity for everyone involved to take on a team that beat the All Blacks last time out.

"We haven't won there since 1983. It's a huge, huge challenge... But why not?"

Borders lads bagged the big points

Scotland have won at Twickenham just once in 42 years. The England side they beat 22-12 in 1983 included Dusty Hare, John Carleton, Paul Dodge, Steve Smith, Peter Wheeler, Steve Bainbridge and Peter Winterbottom. For all that talent, England could not cross the Scotland line, their points coming courtesy of four penalties by Hare, the trusty Leicester full-back.

It was 9-9 at the interval and the difference proved to be two second-half Scottish tries, the first by the Jedforest scrum-half Roy Laidlaw and the second by the debutant Gala lock Tom Smith.

All of Scotland’s points were scored by members of Borders clubs, the Gala full-back Peter Dods landing three penalties and a conversion, and the Melrose centre Keith Robertson a drop goal. Scotland have avoided defeat at Twickenham once since then, drawing 12-12 in 1989.


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