By Tom Oliver
On 29 May 2004, Mr Andy Beattie walked out in front of 59,000 spectators onto the hallowed turf of Twickenham. His Bath side, the side he had started every league match for that season, were set to take on Wasps for the Premiership title. Perhaps it was fitting that the greatest occasion in Mr Beattie’s young career was to take place in South West London. Before making Bath’s number 6 jersey his own, even before his successes as part of an eclectic Exeter side, he had played only three miles away fromthe home of English rugby. For three seasons, Mr Beattie had turned out for Hampton School’s First XV, captaining the side in his final year. Despite the tight loss his Bath side suffered that day, it was a homecoming of sorts. 18 years on from that match, having amassed a total of 209 appearances for Bath and established himself as one of Hampton’s greatest rugby graduates, events have come full circle for Mr Beattie.
“What I try to say to the boys is ‘make memories together that you can take away for the rest of your life,’” he explains. Having experienced the game at almost all levels as a player, and now a coach, Beattie himself certainly possesses some of those special rugby memories. ‘The boys’ in question are, naturally, Hampton’s current First XV squad, the squad that Mr Beattie, in his new capacity as Director of Rugby, is hoping to create more of those moments with over the coming seasons.
“Now, it’s their time to put the process into place, I love seeing players work things out for themselves on the pitch,” elaborates the former flanker with striking modesty. Nothing about the way Mr Beattie carries himself suggests complacency or a desire to rest on his considerable previous achievements, with his continuing love for the game clear in his tone. “Coaching,” he continues, “is something I really enjoy.”
Since his retirement, and subsequent return to coach at the School, Mr Beattie has spent a great deal of time working with other age groups at Hampton and experiencing the sport from a different perspective. Upon arrival, he quickly noted that “boys, especially in the first team, are far more physical than when I was here.” As Mr Beattie himself admits, “the game has definitely moved on” in recent years, as signalled by the presence of aspects such as regular strength and conditioning programs at Hampton and improved nutrition even at school level. Mr Beattie concludes that “it’s better to watch in my opinion, the skillset is far higher amongst our boys, from the under 12 level all the way through, it’s really good.”
In his own final school year Mr Beattie featured alongside future England greats for the country’s U18 side, including Mike Tindall and, most notably, Jonny Wilkinson. Pondering the epic career of the latter, he suggests that “it was obvious he was going to be a superstar. He was always the last one out on the training pitch; we’d all be waiting on the coach an hour after the game, and he’d still be kicking at goal.”
After leaving Hampton, Mr Beattie headed West, where he combined his studies at Exeter University with playing for the town’s club side. That side was successful in the championship, with Mr Beattie playing a role in the early stages of the club’s rise to domestic hegemony under Rob Baxter. “Back then, it would’ve been semi-pro,” he recalls, “It was a great experience. Rob Baxter at the time balanced his farming duties with playing, we had pig farmers, marines and even students like myself.”
Mr Beattie made a considerable step up after the conclusion of his sports science degree, joining the great Bath side of the 2000s, the club’s golden era. “It was an eye opener, playing with seasoned internationals I’d been watching on the TV and had so much respect for. [Being around those professionals] gave me a hunger to get better every training session.” Like most young players in similar situations, he does concede, however, “it took a year or so” to adapt to the unmatched physicality of the elite level immediately after university. “As you probably know, most students’ diets are not the most nutritious,” he points out.
Once he had settled into things at Bath though, Mr Beattie quickly became a force to be reckoned with, starting every league game in the 2003-04 campaign, which culminated in that 10-6 Premiership final loss to Wasps. “We’d topped the table that season by a few points, and we were leading that game until the final few minutes when we threw an interception, and Wasps ran the length of the pitch and scored. It was gutting, but ultimately, I’m really proud to have played in a Premiership final.” He is quick to add that “I’m also proud that Louis [Lynagh, Harlequins winger and fellow Old Hamptonian] has gone on and won the Premiership.” Scoring twice in crucial moments for Quins during their win in the 2021 Premiership final, Lynagh worked with Mr Beattie at Hampton and emulated the former Bath man in captaining the School’s First XV. “It’s fantastic, it’s the biggest prize in club rugby,” he says of Lynagh’s achievement.
In February 2005, Mr Beattie broke his leg, falling awkwardly after a line-out for England A against France A. Having been on the fringes of the England first team, the injury was a huge blow and ruled him out for a considerable period. The positivity with which he discusses the incident is testament to his resilience. “We had great physios at Bath and great people around me helped me to get back, but ultimately you always miss playing, you’re worried that someone else might take your shirt.” His refusal to let himself be brought down by the experience is summarised by his view that injuries are “a part of sport, it’s about how you deal with those things and how you battle back from them.”
Bath achieved redemption for their Premiership final loss four years on, triumphing in the European Challenge Cup in 2008, with the showpiece final taking place against Worcester on the neutral battlefield of Kingsholm. For Mr Beattie, the victory of 24-16 was bittersweet. “I was injured in the semi-final, it was gutting.” Despite missing the final, then-Bath coach Steve Meehan chose Mr Beattie to hand out his teammates’ jerseys the night before the prestigious game. “It was a big honour, a privilege, there were World Cup winners in that side, I’m really proud to have been a part of that squad.”
When I enquire about his favourite games of his professional career, alongside the Challenge Cup run, Mr Beattie points me in the direction of the 2006 Heineken Cup semi-final. “We played down in San Sebastian, it was a football stadium, Real Sociedad’s ground, against Biarritz.” Although the French side went on to the final, he still remembers the afternoon fondly. “It was a cracking sunny day and an amazing atmosphere; we were in front of 30,000 Bath fans.”
While Hampton may not be able to boast such sheer numbers of supporters, or a ground once graced by Lionel Messi and Gareth Bale, Beattie is the first to admit that “we have some mouth-watering fixtures against other big schools, some fantastic tournaments throughout the year.” Reflectively, he emphasises that in the first team, “you’re playing with your friends, who you’ve been in school with for five, maybe even seven years, and you’re making special memories together that you can take into your next walk of life. It passes by quickly, you get to the Upper Sixth and you suddenly realise ‘this is the last time I’m playing,’ so make memories and enjoy it with your friends, that’s the most important thing.”