By Lee Stace
REWIND THE clock back to 2008, the days when grey clouds lingered heavily over the skies of Queensland rugby.
The Reds were playing the Bulls in Brisbane. While the action was unfolding on the field, a young buck called Scott Higginbotham was on the sidelines eagerly waiting to make his debut for the Australian franchise which a year earlier had suffered the ignominy of a 92-3 hiding against the same opposition.
Much had been made about this promising No 8/blindside flanker since he scooped the Reds Academy Player of the Year award in 2007, and when he finally took to the field, it soon became apparent why he was being talked about in hushed tones by those in local rugby circles as a future Wallabies star.
Within minutes of stepping foot onto the pristine Suncorp Stadium turf, Higginbotham made his presence felt with a bone-jarring tackle on Bryan Habana. The crunch was such that the full force of the impact would’ve been felt back in Pretoria by those faithful supporters who had dragged their tired bodies out of bed to watch the early morning clash on the box.
Talk about making an impact. Some fresh-faced rookie had just destroyed the incumbent Springboks wing – the IRB’s reigning Player of the Year, no less – with a hit that would be worthy of inclusion in any highlights reel.
Fast-forward three years and the landscape has changed markedly. The Reds are now basking in the glory of a successful Super Rugby season and Higginbotham – now the go-to man, either at the boot or on the short side of the scrum, for the Ewen McKenzie-coached side – has one test cap to his name and is preparing to embark on his first Tri Nations campaign with the Wallabies.
He would have featured last year, but after an eye-catching Super 14 campaign, he had the misfortune of injuring his ankle in the Reds’ final game of the season. Bad luck would strike again, when he was a late scratching for the clash against the Springboks in Pretoria after suffering a back problem during the warm-up.
It meant his test debut was delayed until the encounter against France in Paris on the end of year tour, where he also featured in the midweek tangos with Leicester and Munster.
“It was a tough year with those injuries and they played on my mind a lot,” says Higginbotham.
“But to finally earn my first Wallabies cap was great and a huge relief at the same time. Hopefully there will be more to come.”
The 110kg bruiser is forging a reputation as a no-nonsense and abrasive player who is capable of tenderising the flesh of opponents with a powerful surge or punishing tackle.
The physical stuff is something he clearly relishes.
“I wouldn’t say I like to go out and smash people, but it’s obviously a physical game and you’ve got to take your opportunity by making hit-ups and big tackles.”
That hard-nosed edge is something the Wallabies loose forward trio has lacked in recent seasons when it comes to attacking the breakdown and asserting itself physically on a match.
With Wycliff Palu out injured and Rocky Elsom battling to regain fitness after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Wallaby coach Robbie Deans looks set to hand the hard-hitting Higginbotham, who has a Diploma in Business, either the No 8 or 6 jersey for the upcoming assignments against the All Blacks and Springboks.
While he provides aggression and go-forward, the 1.95m-tall Higginbotham is more than just an enforcer. He is also a useful lineout option and an athletic link-man who possesses great ball skills and a deceptive turn of pace. Go to YouTube and watch the clean pair of heels he showed during a 60m goal-line sprint against two outside backs to score a meat pie when chasing a kick against the Bulls last year.
Those attributes of his repertoire can probably be credited to his time playing with the Australian Sevens team, which he represented during the 2007-08 IRB World Sevens Series.
It may surprise some people that the well-travelled Higginbotham did not play much code growing up. In fact, he spent much of his nomadic childhood living in Hong Kong and Singapore, due to his father Peter’s profession as a banker. Soccer, swimming and basketball held all the aces back then.
Higginbotham is a massive unit, but a few years ago he was anything but. A growth spurt in his final year of college meant he transformed into a “bit of a skinny kid”.
A lanky lock, it wasn’t until he made it into the Reds Academy that he added some much-needed premium beef to his bones and shifted to the loose forwards.
“The boys I live with are into partying and doing weights and that’s all I did for a couple of months,” he says.
So does that mean drinking copious amounts of amber suds and pumping iron was behind the increase in body mass?
“Well, I wouldn’t put it all down to that. I like to think there was a bit of hard work involved as well," he laughs.
Jokes aside, there has been nothing to laugh about when it comes to the 24-year-old’s irresistible form for the Reds this season.
Punishing defence and barnstorming runs were a feature of his play as the young Queenslanders built on the exciting promise they showed last year.
“It’s been good to start most of the year (he started every game bar one for the Reds) and I’m pretty happy with the space I’m in at the moment. But I’ve still got a lot of work to do at the moment,” he says.
“With the back-row we’ve got [at the Reds], it’s allowed me to get my hands on the ball in open play and have a run.”
A keen surfer in his spare time, Higginbotham will be looking to make a few waves of his own when the Wallabies kick off their Tri Nations campaign against South Africa this Saturday.« Back to Articles
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