The healing powers of Montpellier
January 18, 2013
Johnnie Beattie takes on the Argentina team single-handedly © PA Photos
According to legend, Saint Roch was born in Montpellier in about 1348 - the man who could heal people from the plague. A church now stands in the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region in honour of the Saint and every year it hosts a pilgrimage ritual as devoted followers flock to pay homage to his powers.
Whether Roch's powers still resonate around the city is open to debate, but Scotland No.8 Johnnie Beattie is enjoying a new, injury-free, lease of life since he arrived at Montpellier at the start of the season after eight years at Glasgow. His inclusion in the recent Scotland squad for the Six Nations is testament to just how well he has been playing in France.
Montpellier still harbour hopes of qualifying for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and central to their charge has been the 27-year-old. Described by their coach Fabien Galthie as "one of the best players in the team" after his man-of-the-match performance against Sale last time out, Beattie is loving life on the Mediterranean coast.
But his form and outlook at Montpellier is a far cry from his experiences during the 2011-12 season. He was one of the big omissions from Andy Robinson's squad for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, at the time it was hard to ignore the sudden drop in his stock after his huge showing in the 2010 Six Nations. But since his heroics in that tournament, where he formed one third of the 'Killer Bs' in the Scottish back-row - alongside Kelly Brown and John Barclay - he endured 18 months of re-finding form, confidence and consistency after undergoing shoulder reconstruction in the summer of 2010. He was used as a bit-part player during the 2011-12 campaign and you do not have to search too hard to find articles written about him failing to see eye-to-eye with his Glasgow Warriors coach Sean Lineen.
But Beattie looks back on that hard 18 to 24 months philosophically. "I'm one of those players that things haven't always been easy in some ways but it's a good thing," Beattie told ESPN. "It makes you hungry; it makes your desire stronger to perform when you get the opportunity.
"Things haven't been easy over the last 18 months or so but I think that makes you stronger and if you had everything your own way then maybe you wouldn't have that appetite that I have now. If you're not enjoying your rugby then you tend not to enjoy your life outside of rugby as much. But things are going well and I am content with my lot, as they say."
And that feeling of content is manifesting itself into form on the field. The move has worked for Beattie so far, and the switch to France could have come about earlier in his career. "Ever since I started playing rugby professionally I always said to my family and friends that if I had the chance to play in the south of France then I would love to go. I had the opportunity two seasons ago to go to another team in the south of France but I had to stay to get my shoulder reconstructed. The opportunity came up again in the summer and I absolutely jumped at it. It's always been a personal ambition of mine and to be here and playing for a team like Montpellier is just great."
When speaking to Beattie, his excitement for what he is experiencing at Montpellier is tangible. Like Beattie, they are a brutally efficient, hard-working club but without the added Galactico glamour of fellow Mediterranean rivals Toulon. It seems the two - Beattie and Montpellier - have married with ease.
"It's a completely different sort of set-up (to Glasgow) and a completely different way of life - a fresh start and it has been a breath of fresh air. It's a very multicultural over here in the squad - there are a lot of Argentineans, Georgians, South Africans, Australians, Kiwis and obviously heaps of French as well. And being the only Scot, after being in an all-Scottish environment, has been a different challenge with language barriers, different coaching philosophies and new team-mates. But rugby's just rugby and you perform at the things you're meant to perform and play as you are meant to play and that's the same for rugby in any language."
And although he does not drink coffee, as seems to be the norm going by the image Twitter paints when players in France document their days off, he has thrown himself into his new lifestyle. During the summer after pre-season he took to the beach to "paddle about and just chill". Alongside Montpellier's successful rugby team, the city also embraces its handball and football sides and he has been along to watch both. Alongside Montpellier's football stars - the current crop will be stand alongside Saint Roch as one of the city's heroes after they scooped the French Ligue 1 for the first time last season - one towering Georgian looms above all on the rugby field.
Johnnie Beattie brushes away the tackle of Danny Cipriani to score © PA Photos
Beattie is well versed in playing alongside top international back-rowers but even he admits it is a blessing to be in the same team as Mamuka Gorgodze, rather than turning out against him. But the imposing figure the Georgian cuts on the field contrasts his persona away from the game.
"He's, honestly, very very nice. He's a normal bloke and just like anyone else - very easy to get along with and very relaxed. As soon as he gets his boots on, he's a different animal, but that's the mentality it takes to play rugby at a higher level. At every training session there are lineouts, there are scrums and he likes jumping in to play prop. Outside of the training field he's a quiet guy but when he goes onto the pitch, a switch flicks."
You would have thought that the exposure of playing alongside Gorgodze and against players such as fellow Top 14 star back-rowers Chris Masoe, Louis Picamoles and Shaun Sowerby week-in-week-out would put him in good stead on the Test stage. And that also seems to be the view of Scott Johnson who recalled Beattie to the Test team this week - one of two players turning out in France to get the nod.
But while international aspirations are back on his radar, his immediate focus is on the Top 14 and the Heineken Cup. He will play a key role in both competitions for Montpellier and will continue to embrace everything that is thrown in his direction.
Whether there is something in the water at Montpellier is hard to prove, but Beattie is a firm believer in the rejuvenating powers of the Top 14 which have breathed new life into his career.
"Personally for me, that is definitely how I feel. Maybe it was the case for me that I stayed at one club for too long and maybe you need new challenges to give you that new start. But I one hundred per cent feel that has happened for me - it's just exciting. That's the only way I can explain it."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.