Angus Innes attended Terrace between the years 1984 and 1988. In his senior year, he was College Vice-Captain and Captain of Boats. He played for the Terrace First XV in 1987 and 1988. Since leaving Terrace, he has represented Australia in junior rowing and at under 21s level in rugby. Between the years 1998 and 2001, he won four Blues in rugby at Cambridge University. He was captain of Cambridge for the 1999 Varsity Match.
Angus’ brother, Hamish, also attended Terrace (senior 1990). Hamish played rugby for Australian Universities and played alongside Angus in the Varsity Matches of 1998 and 1999.
Angus’ and Hamish’s uncle, David Dunworth is a Terrace old boy who played 5 tests for the Wallabies at prop. Another uncle, David Crombie, is an old boy of Churchie who played hooker for the Wallabies.
Angus now lives in London where he works for Merrill Lynch (UK). Brave and Game caught up with him and tapped in to his thoughts about Terrace and his rugby experiences since the late 1980s.
B&G: Angus, thanks for talking to us. Let’s start with how were you first introduced to rugby?
Angus: Well before I went to Nudgee Junior, Dad had sent Hamish and me down to play Aussie Rules at the local club, Sherwood Magpies. We wore the Collingwood strip. We loved it, it was a great club and we were pretty tight with the boys down there. Hamish was actually a very good player. When I went to Nudgee, I continued to play Aussie Rules but by the time I got to grade 6, Dad basically said “Listen, you should be playing sport with your school mates” and so I ended up playing rugby at Nudgee Junior from under 11s on.
B&G:You arrived at Terrace in Grade 8 in 1984. Did you play in the As in the under age teams at Terrace?
Angus: No, I tended to be in either the Bs or the Cs. I was a late bloomer. I think by grade 10 I had progressed to the 15 Bs. I went straight from the 15 Bs in 1986 into the First XV in 1987.
B&G: That must have been a big step?
Angus: Yeah, it was a big step but I guess it was not unheard of in those days. I remember being told by others at the time that, in 1981, Peter West had been picked in the First XV at breakaway when he had played in the 15Cs in 1980. In 1983, Tony Merlo went from the 15Bs to flyhalf for the First XV and in 1984, Shaun Stapleton had gone from the 15Bs to prop for the First XV. But you’re right, it was a big step up and it was my first exposure to what you might call serious rugby.
B&G: You were coached by Michael Broad and Allan Ball in the First XV?
Angus: That’s right, they were great coaches and really decent blokes. Bally took the forwards and the training was always pretty intense. The packs he coached tended to be very effective in the set pieces.
B&G: In terms of your first season in the First XV, when did you first realise that you were a chance of being selected for the Firsts?
Angus: It was a couple of weeks before the team was announced. I remember that Bally dropped around to our house one night after training and basically said to my parents “We want to give Gus a crack in the second row”. I think there was a trial game coming up that weekend against Canberra Grammar. I remember Bally explaining to me what he considered my role was to be, particularly in the lineouts. To that point in time, I had not been exposed to rugby at any high level and I was now being asked to play alongside, and against, blokes whom I regarded as legends. I was pretty nervous about it all and I basically just went out and did whatever I could in the trial. By that stage I was about 85 kgs and about 6 foot 3 inches.
B&G: How did the 1987 season pan out for you?
Angus: The pace of the games was extraordinary and there was always an incredible atmosphere. Each game was a big occasion and I remember that, every now and then, we would be refereed by Kerry Fitzgerald, who later that year refereed the first Rugby World Cup Final. He was a great ref and a really good man. We ended up finishing second. We lost to Nudgee and to Toowoomba Grammar. I dislocated my shoulder and ended up missing some games. I had recovered in time for the last round and played that game in the 16As. I remember that the first game against Churchie was a big occasion. In the lead up to that game, the Courier Mail had published an article written by a Churchie old boy which said that Churchie were the favourites for the Premiership and had a pack which was going to carry them all the way. We had all read that article during the week and it provided some good motivation. We had a few blokes in the side who were pretty experienced campaigners like Ed Nasser (our captain), Robbie Martin, Simon Courtice and Ed Hampson. But we also had a few young guys in grade 11 who were making their debuts including myself, Simon Nasser and Tony Curtis. The team just lifted for the occasion and that game is a really treasured memory. We ended up having a great win against a very good Churchie side at their place and it was a fantastic feeling walking off their main oval in the Terrace First XV jersey, surrounded by your mates. That game gave me some confidence. After that I felt like I belonged in the team and the team itself started to build some momentum. Unfortunately, we had a close loss to Nudgee and a loss later on to a Toowoomba Grammar side led by Jason Little.
B&G: Tell us about Nudgee in 1987?
Angus: We played them away and I think that the final score was 8-6 (tries in those days being worth 4 points). Col Waldron was the referee. Their first try was scored by the musician, Pete Murray. Their second try was scored by Bobby Conway, who went on to play for the Broncos. We were all pretty down after that game because we knew it was going to be very tough to stay in contention for the premiership. You know it was quite an amazing season for me as a young guy and I learned a great deal that year. It was a steep learning curve.
B&G: Downlands also had a very good side that year?
Angus: Yes they did. The 1987 Downlands side included the likes of Tim Horan, Brett Johnstone, Garrick Morgan and Peter Ryan. They were a phenomenal schoolboy team.
B&G: You must have thought that Terrace was a big chance to win the premiership in 1988?
Angus: Yes, we did. However, we weren’t the favourites. The team to beat was definitely Ipswich Grammar and we were scheduled to play them at their place in round one. They had been a good under age team but they had added to their ranks two key players, Craig Smith and Craig Polla-Mounter. Craig Smith ended up playing State of Origin for Queensland and Craig Polla-Mounter went on to have a very successful career with the Canterbury Bulldogs.
B&G: Where did the team end up in ’88?
Angus: We came second again. We lost to Ipswich in a close one but then won every other game.
B&G: And you lost some personnel before the season even got underway?
Angus: Yes, we lost Tony Curtis, who was the College Captain. He did his knee on the rugby tour and never made it back, which was really unfortunate. Losing Tony was a big loss and it led to Mark Carroll having to switch from the second row in 1987 to the centres in 1988. Mark played very well in the centres.
B&G: Did you as a player approach 1988 any differently?
Angus: Yes I certainly did. By the time the 1988 season came around, I was probably closer to 6 foot 5 inches tall and I was weighing in at about 98kgs. So in 1988, I was a completely different player both physically and in terms of my experience. In that second year I had a completely different expectation and mental approach. I went into all of the games with the aim of dominating my opposite number and the extra year’s experience gave me an expectation of being able to do that.
B&G: What can you remember of the Ipswich game in 1988?
Angus: It was a huge day. There was a massive crowd up at Ipswich. We had a pretty reasonable day in terms of the set pieces but I remember that Ipswich were just relentless with their attack. It was a fast game and their back row played very well. Craig Smith was outstanding. I remember towards the end watching Polla-Mounter score the try in the corner which sealed it for them. That was a pretty ordinary feeling and a few of us were inconsolable in the sheds afterwards. I mean that was a really tough start for us. We had set ourselves the goal of winning the premiership and we had effectively lost the grand final in round one. To the great credit of all the guys in the team we managed to put that disappointment behind us and rally to go on and win every other game. I am very proud about how we worked our way through the rest of that season.
B&G: Did you play representative rugby at school?
Angus: No, for some reason there was a conflict between the Queensland Schoolboy trials and First XV commitments and I chose to play for Terrace rather than throw my hat into the ring for representative selection.
B&G: You left Terrace at the end of 1988. You went to the University of Queensland and studied commerce. At that time you held dual scholarships from the Australian Institute of Sport in rowing and rugby?
Angus: Yes, that’s right. I played rugby for University and kept up my rowing. I rowed for Australia at the World Junior Championships. Ryan O’Hanlon, my second row partner from the Terrace First XV in 1988, was also a member of that crew. The time came when I had to choose between rugby and rowing and I chose rugby because I loved the game and I felt that I had more of a future in rugby than in rowing. It got to the stage where I had to make a choice. My academic performance was suffering. I was finding that I was being required to be overseas with rowing or rugby for 7 or 8 weeks of a semester and something had to give in the end. Rowing wanted you to go pretty much year round and rugby wanted the same. I was probably a better rugby player than I was a rower and rugby was certainly easier as far as I was concerned.
B&G: And how did your career at University Rugby Club develop?
Angus: I went straight into A grade after colts and I ended up playing in A grade for a number of years. I made the Queensland under 19s, Queensland under 21s, Australian under 21s and Australian Universities along the way. I didn’t manage to win a cap for Queensland. They were great years and there was a fair bit of competition around in the second row with the likes of John Eales, Rod McCall, Garrick Morgan and David Giffin.
B&G: Who were some of the Terrace Old Boys whom you played alongside at University?
Angus: There was a pretty strong Terrace flavour at University. Obviously, there were the established senior players who were legends of the game like Michael Lynagh and Brendan Nasser. Then there were also the likes of Brendan Lumb, Paul Williams, Mark Carroll, Ed and Simon Nasser and my brother Hamish ended up down there as well. Hamish ended up playing for Australian Universities which was a great achievement.
B&G: What was it like playing in the same team as Michael Lynagh?
Angus: Unbelievable. He just ran the game like nobody else I have played with or against. I didn’t know what to call him at my first A grade training session so I called him “Mr Lynagh”. He smiled and said “Call me Noddy”. That was quite funny thinking back on it.
B&G: You graduated from the University of Queensland and then went to play in Japan from 1994 to 1998. After Japan you made your way to Cambridge University on a scholarship?
Angus: I had some wonderful years at Cambridge. I won four Blues for playing in the Varsity Matches at Twickenham in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. I wanted to make it for my fifth Blue in 2002 but there was some type of protest by the Oxford coach who pulled out a rule which said that post graduates could not achieve more than four Blues. Hamish played alongside me in the second row in the Varsity matches in 1998 and 1999 and Mum and Dad were in the stands.
B&G: You were actually the Captain of Cambridge for one year weren’t you?
Angus: Yes, I was captain in 1999. They have a one year rotational system. It was a great honour to be Captain and the Varsity matches bring back great memories for me. Terrace has actually had a bit of a connection with those games in recent memory. Apart from Hamish’s and my involvement with Cambridge, Brendan Nasser played for and coached Oxford for a number of years and Ed Nasser and Trevor Walsh also played for the dark side.
B&G: Did you ever think about trying to make the Cambridge Eight for the Boat Race?
Angus: Yeah, very briefly I toyed with the thought. Very briefly though because, practically, it’s just not possible to win Blues in rugby and rowing. First, I was on a rugby scholarship so my loyalty had to be to the Rugby Club. Secondly, the rowers train incredibly hard for the Boat Race and they started their season at more or less the same time at which we started ours in rugby. Thirdly, you have got blokes in those crews who have come straight out of the Olympics or World Championships the year before, so to make the Boat Race crew you have to be an elite rower and it is not feasible to try and force your way into the crew four months after they have started training and three months before they row the race. Fourthly, I had to study hard and I needed the extra time to devote to my studies.
B&G: What are your thoughts about Terrace 20 years on?
Angus: I am massively fond of the place. My years at Terrace were wonderful years in my life. I was very lucky that Mum and Dad sent me there and I have made lifelong mates from Terrace. Although I live in London, I am still in regular contact with most of my mates from school. We are still as thick as thieves. We have a twenty year reunion this year and I am definitely flying in for it. Take that as a warning fellas!
B&G: If you had the chance to say a few words to the boys in the Terrace First XV today, what would those words be?
Angus: I suppose the important thing is to keep everything in perspective. By that I mean that, at the time when you are playing in the First XV, it seems like the biggest thing in the world and those games are very big occasions for young heads to get right. So I would stress to the boys to keep everything in perspective. You must realise what a great honour it is to play for the First XV but you must also keep your heads and still be able to actually function as a player and do the jobs that you need to be doing on the day. I remember that it was very hard to control your emotions when you were standing around in a circle singing the school song and just about to run onto Tennyson. But you must stay focused. By all means realise the gravity and the custodianship and the loyalty and the importance of what you are doing but also focus upon your roles for the game. You have to remember to turn up and do your job, keep a level head and don’t get lost in the emotion. Get fired up for the game but don’t allow the game to become so big that you have played it in your head too many times before the whistle goes.
B&G: Angus Innes, thanks for talking to Brave & Game.
Angus: It’s been my pleasure.