British & Irish Lions

'Dreams' and 'headless chickens': Scottish stars on life in France

Johnnie Beattie (Getty Images)
Johnnie Beattie (Getty Images)

From "dreaming" of playing on sun-drenched fields to feeling like "headless chickens" in exile, Scottish players have enjoyed colourful careers in France.

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Former Scotland back-rower Johnnie Beattie, who played 38 Tests, left Glasgow Warriors for Montpellier in 2012 and has now settled down with his family on the French south-west coast after hanging up his boots last year.

"It had been a mini-dream of mine. I remember watching European Cup rugby when I was 14, 15, 16 and seeing Biarritz, Toulouse, all these big teams smashing up British teams," Beattie, the son of former Scotland international John Beattie, told AFP.

"Playing with the sun on their backs, dry grounds, people having a glass of wine or a beer at the side of the pitch and I thought 'that looks quite nice'," he added.

After Montpellier, Beattie featured for Castres and Bayonne.

He said learning French was the most difficult aspect of heading to a Top 14 club.

"I arrived with Shontayne Hape who was an England centre at the time. During our first game our 10, Francois Trinh-Duc, looked at us both and shouted 'chandelle' ('up and under') and he stuck up a high ball.

"The pair of us didn't know what we were doing and didn't chase the kick and he started screaming at us. We were like 'OK, if we're going to get into this seriously, we're going to have get our French language up pretty quickly,'" recalled Beattie.

Ex-Scotland loose forward Nathan Hines, who had spells with Perpignan and Clermont before being appointed Montpellier forwards coach in 2017, had a similar problem when heading to Catalonia in 2005.

He said the linguistic barrier improved his performance.

"I felt I was running around like a headless chicken for a while because I didn't know what was going on," Hines told AFP.

"That forced you to play a bit more naturally as well to read what was going on and anticipate things."

Beattie now lives near the Basque Country and would advise any fellow Scot to head to France to play.

"We're very molly-coddled back home and the best thing has been to get away and grow up. I left as a young bloke, I came over with my girlfriend, we're now married with two kids that were born in France," he said.

"It's honestly been the experience of a lifetime," he added.

Hines, who has spent more than a decade in the Top 14, had a word of warning.

"If they're willing to take the good with the different then it will be good. I wouldn't push anyone. I can only say it helped me but every situation is different," he said.

Ahead of Scotland's Six Nations clash at home to France on Sunday, Beattie says it is frustrating that his compatriot Finn Russell, who plays for French giants Racing 92, is still unavailable.

Flyhalf Russell, who has 49 caps, has missed Scotland's three opening games of the Six Nations due to a breakdown in his relationship with head coach Gregor Townsend.

"It's horribly frustrating we don't get to see him in a Scotland shirt right now," said Beattie.

Hines added: "You can see it from both sides. You want your best player playing but you don't want your best player affecting the rest of the team's performance because it's going to do more harm than good."

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