Rugby Union

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Life is proving to be swell for Higginbotham

Outside interests are keeping it all in perspective as this rising star reaches his full potential.

It all revolves around clearing the mind and getting some balance. Avoid turning rugby into an obsession. Immerse yourself in as many varied interests as possible. That philosophy is certainly working for Wallabies and Reds back-rower Scott Higginbotham this season as he has been the standout Australian forward in the Super Rugby tournament.

The potential has always been there. But in his opening seasons, Higginbotham appeared to waste some opportunities, while luck often didn't go his way - particularly when he was about to play his first Test in 2010 against the Springboks in Pretoria. He was ready, primed, but during the warm-ups just 15 minutes before kick-off, his back went. Instead of singing the Australian national anthem, he was in the Wallabies dressing room at Loftus Versfeld, overwhelmed with grief. ''I had a few tears. I just looked at a few holes in the wall,'' he said at the time.

But now there is a real urgency to Higginbotham's game, with his high work rate and often aggressive approach a crucial factor in the Reds' rise up the Super Rugby ladder. These same attributes will make him a Wallabies certainty next month where he will play either at No.8 or blindside breakaway against Scotland and Wales.

He believes the reasons for his fine form this season are relatively simple. ''I've tried to enjoy myself a bit more this year. I've had interests outside football and that's helped to keep it all in perspective. I discover if you do have interests outside football, when you go to training you want to train. It's not like training, going home, sleeping, waking up and going to training again,'' Higginbotham said yesterday.

That happens when you decide to open a cafe in Brisbane, called Leaf Espresso. Being in charge of the business ensures you don't wake up in the middle of the night stressing out about rugby. Life becomes more about ensuring there's enough milk in the cafe fridge and spare change in the till.

''The cafe only opened a week ago, but it takes a while to get those types of things set up. So I'm working there when I'm not training. Most of last week I was mainly doing the dishes because the dishwasher was broken.''


Then there is his long-held passion of surfing. Whenever possible he and Reds teammates Luke Morahan and James Slipper go in search of the perfect break.

''We've had some great opportunities to surf this year. James actually spent a bit of money on a jet ski, so that's helped us out there.''

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is ensuring that Higginbotham keeps his feet firmly planted.

''There is still a lot of things to work on in my game, which Link [McKenzie] at every opportunity he gets will point them out,'' the 25-year-old said.

''He's good like that. You might have a good game, but you wouldn't know it because Link will be telling you what you need to improve on. That's great, because I don't think it is good to be completely happy with your performance. You always want to improve.''

But at least he now feels settled.

''When I first got into the Wallabies, my football was pretty loose. I was probably a bit more stand-offish in those first couple of Tests than I am now. It's easy to come off the bench to really impose yourself on a game, because you're fresh and you're going a million miles an hour. But I found starting against Wales and the Barbarians last year where you were able to play full games, you could settle a bit more.''

But enough rugby, because just over the team hotel wall was the lure of a sloppy Coogee swell and down the road was the wafting smell of roasted coffee beans.