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Not all the answers, but at least Beattie considers the questions

After the latest eruption of hysteria and hand-wringing over rugby's safety issues, it would probably do a few of the sport's more excitable critics some good to spend time in the company of Johnnie Beattie, if only to plant the suspicion that getting your head bashed about for a living might actually knock a bit of sense into a fellow.

Or, in his case, a lot of sense. While most players kick questions concerning the wider well-being of rugby into touch, Beattie is more than happy to pick up that ball and run with it. He retreated to the safety of his home in the south of France after the 20-0 loss to England two weeks ago, but while he might have avoided the firestorm of criticism from fans and media, he is anything but indifferent to such matters.

Of course, being out of Scotland meant he had to get back to his day job with Montpellier but even that had a refreshing dimension as he helped his side beat local rivals Perpignan 50-19 to clinch second place in the French Top 14 Championship. Diplomatically, he refused to explain whether watching Al Strokosch, Perpignan's Scottish flanker, pick up a yellow card had enhanced or diminished the experience.

"Being involved in the last two losses [with Scotland] has not been enjoyable," said the No.8. "There has been a dejected feeling around Scottish rugby, so to get away and win by 50 points, have a good laugh and speak a different language was beneficial. To do that and then come back has done me some good."

Being away from the fallout from the Calcutta Cup game - "French television is not really that interested" - was only ever going to be a temporary state of affairs, for his Scotland team-mates filled him in on the backdrop when he returned. "I came back, spoke to the boys and heard about it," he sighed. "As a Scottish rugby supporter myself, it is sad."

But also a challenge. As poor as the Test team's performance against England had been, the entire Scottish rugby landscape has come under scrutiny for the past fortnight. Should there be a third professional team? Fewer overseas players? What roles should the amateur clubs have? Questions, questions, questions.

Beattie admits that he does not have all the answers. But the issues still concern him. He mentions that he and Scott Lawson regularly chew over such matters when they sit down for lunch at the team hotel. Whether other players rush to join their table is not entirely clear.

At heart, Beattie cares about the game in these parts, which might come as a surprise to those who dismissed him as a self-interested show pony when he first burst on to the senior scene a few years ago.

Hailed as a teenage sensation when he broke into the Glasgow side as an 18-year-old, there is commendable honesty and genuine humility in his explanation that good fortune played a big part in smoothing that passage.

"I got a chance because Jonny Petrie, my skipper at the time, injured his shoulder and I got to play 20 games in the Celtic league when I was 18," Beattie recalled. "That was just luck. There are heaps of other guys who will never get that chance.

"There was a decision made at under-18 between me and another boy. I got pushed ahead and he got left behind. That guy didn't get a chance. He then went to university, did something else, lost interest in rugby and didn't continue in the game."

That attrition rate is as much a concern as absolute numbers playing rugby at junior levels. With happenstance's helping hand, Beattie was an international player before he was 21 years old, but he worries for those who do not get the chances he enjoyed because the opportunities to play are simply not there in a country that tries to get by with just two professional teams.

He cites the case of Adam Ashe, the young Glasgow forward, as an example. "When I came through I was part of the Scottish Institute of Sport, so I had two or three years of weight training behind me," he said. "Physically I was ready; mentally I was hungry for it and wanted to play. The chance was there, but I was lucky that I got it at the time. There are lots of kids who won't get that chance.

"Physically [Ashe] has all the potential. I think he has every chance to be fantastic, but he hasn't had the chance to play because there are other guys there already, other guys with a bit more experience. How do you have a tournament that allows guys like Adam Ashe to play?"

There is a reassuring quality to Beattie's combination of thoughtfulness and heartfelt concern for the game. As he speaks, he marks himself out as a more measured and knowledgable candidate for the role of Scotland's director of rugby than the bloke who will be walking into the job in a few weeks' time. When he hangs up his rugby boots, the red carpet should be rolled out from Murrayfield in the hope that he brings his insight back into the sport.

Until then, Beattie has other considerations, the most pressing at the moment being tomorrow's RBS 6 Nations match with Italy in Rome. After two appearances off the bench, it was no great surprise that he should return to the Scotland starting lineup, although the fact he displaced Dave Denton - in a lot of people's eyes the side's best forward against England - baffled many.

Whether right or wrong, the thinking is not all that hard to grasp. The Scotland coach Scott Johnson is looking for a pack performance with less bash and more ball-playing. And Beattie is one of the best in the business as far as that aspect is concerned.

Tomorrow, though, he will be up against the best. Sergio Parisse, the Italian No.8 and captain, would walk into just about every other side on earth on the strength of his athleticism, vision and skill. If both Beattie and Parisse play as they can, a treat lies in store.

Yet it is the Scot who is ahead of the Stade Francais player on points at the moment. "I've played against a couple of times with Italy and a few times for Montpellier as well," Beattie explained. "He is a cracking player and a good bloke. I've been lucky because the last few times I played against him with Montpellier we have come out on top."

Can that run continue? Beattie thinks so. "We have to do our jobs right," he added firmly. "We haven't done our jobs right in the last two games at all. It's quite simple.

"We kicked away a lot of possession and defended for 80% of the game against England. Mathematically, you're not going to win any games if you are defending for 80% of the time. It's just not possible.

"But if we can hold the ball, play a bit better, test them, organise ourselves, go forward and try and crack them then there is no reason why we cannot go and get a win."

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