Happy Hamish back where he belongs

Photo: Karen Watson

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Seventeen months ago, the world of rugby seemed to be Hamish Angus’ oyster. Named as the Ken Catchpole Medal Winner of 2012, the Warringah flyhalf was the talk of club rugby, his impressive displays throughout the season earning him plaudits from opponents and team mates alike, while his point scoring prowess – his 192pts that year also earned him the Roscoe Fay Trophy as the Shute Shield’s most lethal weapon – had those in the know talking of Super Rugby contracts.

However, after a few sniffs of interest from the five Australian state sides in the off-season, no concrete offers ever made it to the table. As a result, Angus found himself lining up for his beloved Rats again in round one of the 2013 season against West Harbour, keen to prove to any lingering doubters that he was ready to take the next step.

Of course sport, being the cruel and fickle beast that it is sometimes, contrived to seemingly end his season before it had even begun. A dislocated shoulder in the first 20 minutes putting him out of action for 14 weeks before he made a tentative return in 2nd Grade in round 16.

After a couple of weeks of getting back on the bike and giving the shoulder the full tackle treatment, he was back in 1st Grade. But with the club having recruited Dave Harvey in the off-season, himself a two-time Ken Catchpole Medal winner and former Western Force representative, Angus found himself one place further away from the action at inside centre.

While he performed his unaccustomed role with due dedication and indeed increasing aplomb as the season neared it’s conclusion, his desire to play a more ‘hands-on’ role in the team he had led around the park so successfully the previous year, was unintentionally apparent to those familiar with his talent.

Fast forward to last Saturday then, and the beaming smile on the 24-year-old’s face after he’d played a starring role – at no.10 – in Warringah’s bonus point win at Southern Districts, was perhaps all the more understandable to fully appreciate.

“I’m just happy to be back and enjoying my footy,” he beamed afterwards. “Being back at 10 is great and personally, I’m really enjoying that. Last year, getting injured in round one was devastating really, so I’m just eager to play footy. At the end of last year I felt like I was just starting to get back into my straps, so it’s good to be back on the field again now and looking ahead to the next game.”

An extremely affable young man, Angus respectfully sugar coats his frustration at his role as the driver’s right hand-man alongside Harvey last year. “Coming back and playing 12 was something different,” he says. “It was obviously good to have ‘Harvs’ in the team, which gave us two ball players. But being the sole ball player in the backline this year comes with that extra responsibility, and I like that.”

Warringah coach Haig Sare concurs with his star pivot’s assessment. “Twelve wasn’t his favoured position but it was hard because Dave Harvey was there. Hamish relishes being the one in control and calling the shots. He’s got a great rugby brain and he’s good at making the right decisions at the right time,” he says.

Leota, Iese -Angus, Hamish -Cox, Andrew catchpole medal 140912D-7238.JPG

Angus with the precious Catchpole Medal, flanked by runners-up Iese Leota and Andrew Cox from Parramatta   Photo: SPA Images

That much was evident in Angus’ performance on the day against a Souths outfit chock-full of young talent, but struggling to put it all together in one 80-minute cohesive performance. Yet.

Trailing 13-7 at the break but turning around with the wind at their backs, the Rats produced a textbook second half display to run in three tries on their way to a 36-18 victory that leaves them in second spot on the ladder. While they possess an enticing mix of raw pace and finishing power in their backline, it was the guiding hand of Angus that controlled proceedings, setting the speedsters free when an opportunity presented itself, and reigning them in with a well placed positional kick when the screw needed turning a little more succinctly.

It is a quality that Sare agrees his young side is in need of at times.

“He’s a mature player, and it’s good to have that balance there because we’ve got guys like Josh Holmes and Dave Feltscheer that want to spark things and want to go everywhere, so his cool head works well for us,” says Sare. “We said at half-time against Souths, ‘Let’s use this wind, bog them down, play smart, and make them run into it’ and he did that perfectly.”

Angus himself is fully cognisant of what is expected of him. “I guess my role in the team is to distribute when we’re meant to go wide, and then also give the boys a rest and plug the corners. I’ve got try and make sure that we don’t overplay things and keep the ideas coming,” he says.

He is also readily aware of the attacking options at his disposal, a factor that should see the Rats cause many a defence a few headaches in 2014. “There’s no-one without wheels in our backline, which is such a blessing for the team. And I guess that for the opposition, defending against us at the set-piece and knowing we have that speed in the side must be a nightmare to defend. It gives us so many options and let’s us play so many different ways, it’s definitely a big string to our bow.”

While they were visibly fostering that lethal backline last season, the ability of the forward’s, particularly at scrum time, to earn them the platform with which to show their wares, was the major sticking point. To that end, the arrival to the coaching ranks of former Rat and ex-England international Michael Lipman is already paying dividends, with Warringah’s pack more than matching a revered Rebels forwards unit at Forshaw Park on Saturday, having done the same to an equally respected Pirates pack the week before.

Those improvements up front obviously have the playmaker trying to orchestrate proceedings behind them, purring in anticipation at the possibilities. “We’ve always had the strength in the backs the last few years, and we’ve got guys in second grade who would be playing first grade at a lot of other clubs, which is a great situation for Warringah,” Angus enthuses.

“But this year, particularly in these first two games, the forwards have stepped up. We’ve had a platform to work off and we’re getting plenty of front-foot ball, which allows us to do our thing. If we can keep these guys on the paddock all year, hopefully we’ll be looking at finishing in that top six and playing finals footy. But it’s going to be tough.”

Hosting Parramatta in an evening kick-off under the lights at Rat Park tomorrow, Warringah have a great chance to go three from three at the start of a season in which they have particular reason to want to excel. But with the setbacks of last year still fresh in his mind, Angus is keen to keep his feet and that of everyone else of a Rat persuasion, firmly on the floor.

“It’s a big year for the club, our 50th Anniversary,” he explains. “So everyone is putting in and there’s a great vibe around the club at the moment, and it’s really exciting to be a part of. However, we’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves that’s for sure. We’re just turning up each week and enjoying our footy, and that’s the main thing, that’s what we’re all here to do. It’s more enjoyable when you win, so let’s hope it continues.”

With Angus back at the helm and doing what he does best, the Rats could be in for a very enjoyable year indeed.

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First published by Rugby News on April 11th, 2014

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