I spoke to Chris Beattie for Thirteen in 2005 after his French club, UTC, came so close to shocking Wigan in the Challenge Cup at the JJB Stadium. UTC were preparing for their Super League bow the following year when they would be known as Catalans Dragons.
How long have you been in France now?
I’ve been in France for six months.
What did you think of the standard of the French game at first?
I expected it to be not that good especially with coming from the NRL but one thing that did surprise me was the natural talent of all the players, young and old. However that talent hadn’t really been homed, not even close. Now the coaches Steve Deakin and Paul Donkin have worked really hard on it and it’s paying off. They wanted to bring a couple of Aussies in just to enhance what they were saying and to carry it out at training. The guys have responded to it so well. We’re all so excited about coming to the Super League.
How does the area compare as a rugby league town to back home?
The passion here is amazing with both the fans and the players but especially the younger players. They speak about the game with so much passion. Over in Australia people tend to take the game for granted but in France there was a real danger of them losing their game. They love it here and it’s great to see.
Has the priority in training been fitness and defence because they were the two factors that took you so close against Wigan?
That’s been part of it. They’ve introduced a lot of fitness based games to help us when we’re fatigued during a game. We’re doing a lot of stuff with the ball; it’s continuous. It’s not about making mistakes. It’s about getting the guys to think about where they’re running and who they’re tackling so that’s probably why we’re a bit fitter than people think. I still think we’ve got a couple of levels to go on our fitness but we’ll get there.
How have you settled into France?
I came over with my girlfriend Kelly. We were going to stay an extra year in Australia but decided to go earlier and settle in, learn the language, the local customs and the people. I’m glad we’ve done that because it’s a bit of a head start. The people are so friendly, they’ve welcomed us with open arms and they love their rugby league. The hardest part is the language. It’s a barrier but fortunately a lot of the guys speak good English.
Which language is the team talk in?
French at first. Steve is fluent in French but with a Pommy accent! Then he’ll quickly run through it for the rest of us.
What is David Waite’s role?
He has a back seat role. He’s there to overlook things and make sure things are moving in the right direction. It’s been good having him because he’s clued everyone up to what we need to be doing and it’s helped our preparation. The little bit of training he’s done has been with individuals, especially the younger guys, just on the little bits and pieces.
Did you watch the France v Australia test last autumn? There were some great French performances in that from guys like Djamel Fakir and Remi Casty…
Yeah I was there, it was a great game and they’re good players. Remi is another good young kid here.
How do you think they’d go in the NRL?
They’d hold their own. They’d need to be in the system for a couple of years to get up to it but they’d be okay. They’re so passionate about what they’re doing here and they believe in rugby league so strongly.