Tuesday 12 December 2017

Beware the Killer 'Bs'

Kelly Brown, pictured exchanging words with Jamie Heaslip (left)
Kelly Brown, pictured exchanging words with Jamie Heaslip (left)
David Kelly

David Kelly

Twenty years after the 'White-Shark-Fin' back row went animal crackers and helped Scotland's 1990 Grand Slammers spoil England's hopes in a memorable championship triumph at Murrayfield, another potent back row is threatening to cause havoc and potentially ruin another party on Saturday.

The 'Killer Bs' -- Glasgow trio Kelly Brown, John Barclay and John Beattie -- will start their fifth Six Nations match in succession after Brown was yesterday cleared to play in an unchanged Scotland team despite sustaining a heavy knock in the bore draw with England.

And John Jeffrey, the great white shark of that historic back-row combination which also included Finlay Calder and Derek White, believes that Scotland's chances of causing an unlikely upset rests in the hive of activity at the base of the scrum.

JJ spent much of yesterday chasing cattle around his sprawling Kelso farm, but he admits that the Scottish trio will have to run all day to keep up with the "phenomenal" Irish who are keen to snaffle another Triple Crown even though they are likely to lose the championship crown.

"There is something very similar in how the three players perform compared to myself, Finlay and Derek," says Jeffrey after his daily cattle run. "We were all converted No 8s and so are this Glasgow trio. They're all ball players and they combine intelligence with these abrasive qualities.


"It's fair to say that John Barclay wouldn't be what you might call the traditional open-side in the sense of one pilfering the ball all the time. And we haven't got a traditional, ball-carrying No 6, either. But what they do manage to bring to the party is that immense strength in the carry and tackle, and a supreme sense of intelligence.

"They like to keep the ball alive and they're very keen to find the off-load, an area of the game in which Scotland have performed very well without tangible reward this season.

"All credit to Andy Robinson. He wants to play the game a certain way, he knows what Scotland's limitations are and these players are crucial to his gameplan."

Barclay reiterates Jeffrey's point about the combination containing the right blend. "We're all quite different players and we do quite different things on the pitch," says Barclay of the loose-forward blend. "When you know what each person is going to be doing it allows you to get on with your job a bit better."

One of the Bs will leave the nest; Brown is joining Saracens next year but Beattie has spurned interest from England and France to remain with Sean Lineen's attractive Warriors side who, like Scotland, predicate much of their game-plan upon their back row.

"We've played together for three years now and Kelly is leaving us to go to Saracens in the summer," says Barclay, "so we'll be broken up at Glasgow. So I think it's extra pleasing that we've got to this point now with Scotland."

For his part, Beattie is the son of a famous father, John Beattie, a two-time Lions tourist and winner of 25 caps in a career which included a 1984 Grand Slam success. Given his burgeoning reputation, his father -- also a quirky contributor to a BBC blog which is worth checking out -- is now becoming the least famous member of the family.

"It's been huge for me to be given a chance to play and take part in this championship," says Beattie, who will earn his 12th cap, and his first against Ireland, this Saturday.

"I was nervous before it and you never know how it's going to go. Myself, Kelly and John are pleased with the way things are going and we just want it to continue as long as we can and keep giving everything to it.

"It is really good because we know each other and each other's games so well now that it's got to help when you step up and come under more pressure in the international environment.

"The fact that we have big Al Kellock there in the second row and Moray Low in the front row too is also a help because, although we have different codes for Scotland than at Glasgow, the familiarity and confidence you have with each other helps at scrum and lineout time, and in loose play too.

"We know that the Irish back row is up there probably with the best in the world so it's another massive challenge."

In stark contrast to Ireland, Scotland have dominated their tussles -- apart from predictable defeat against France -- but their failure to close out a 12-point lead against Wales was followed by grim defeat to Italy and last week's stifling draw against England.

"I thought our defence was better," he says of last week's Murrayfield bore. "We've been broken on the fringes of our defence out wide by being too tight. It's a really simple thing but I thought we did that better. We managed to put England under pressure out wide and there were quite a few dominant hits, which was really encouraging.

"It's the next couple of phases after the line break that you're going to score your tries. If we can keep ball a little bit better and engineer a couple more things, we'll be more dangerous."

Jeffrey once said that his only regret about living in Kelso was that "when I stand on a hill, I can see England". However, he was a firm favourite with the English; who can forget his impromptu game of football with the Calcutta Cup up and down Princes St in 1988?

Ominously, aside from the Triple Crown this Saturday, the sides will be playing for the Centenary Quaich -- a drinking vessel.

"I'll try and avoid Mick Galwey this weekend in case we kick the thing around," he smiles. "Looking beyond the back row, Ireland are a phenomenal team and I expect them to win. But if Scotland can keep in it until the last 10 minutes..."

If so, Scottish headline writers will be praying for a sting in the tale.

Irish Independent

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