Champagne moment as one-time Raglan lad makes Rugby World Cup

The champagne was whisked out of hiding at former Raglan lad Angus Ta’avao’s in-laws’ home in Mangere Bridge last Wednesday after the strapping prop – along with his close-knit family – learned he’d made the All Blacks squad which heads to Japan shortly for the Rugby World Cup.

“We didn’t know if it was going to be a celebration or commiseration,” Angus’s Auckland-based mum Wendy McGee – who lived for eight years in Raglan with her two sons – told the Chronicle.

But unbeknown to Angus, his wife Kristyn had two bottles of bubbly chilling in the fridge.

There was an agonising wait to hear the good news as the squad list of surnames rolled up the screen in alphabetical order. But once Angus and family learned he’d made the grade the champagne was quickly retrieved, corks were popped and celebrations began.

Angus actually went very quiet, says Wendy, while she herself burst into tears.

Angus’ selection was “such a relief”, she adds. Why the nerves? “Because it’s your child, and you’ve got to manage the (potential) disappointment.”

Never mind that this one-time Raglan Area School student is all grown up now, recently married and with a son of his own.

Wendy says Angus was always happiest playing rugby. At five years old and often teased for being “twice the size of everyone else”, her second son was delighted to be accepted as a valuable team member at his first muster in Auckland.

Those early rugby years included a season playing for Raglan when the family moved here. “He had real enthusiasm because it was fun,” says Wendy. “It was country kids who all got on well and no-one took it too seriously.”

But then Angus was accepted as a boarder back in Auckland at Dilworth School, where rugby reigns supreme and where it was predicted he could have a “big future”.

After his final year Angus won a Dilworth scholarship to go to Royal School Dungannon in Ireland, working as a tutor as part of a long-standing exchange programme between the two schools.

And on his return to New Zealand his rugby career blossomed.  He became a Baby Black, playing for the national under-20s in Argentina (2010) and then Italy (2011) where Wendy says he was part of a so-called New Zealand “dream team”.

In the same period  he had his first taste of Super Rugby, as a member of the Blues training group in 2011 and of the full Blues squad from 2012.

After three  years with the Blues, Angus crossed the ditch on a two-year contract with the Warratahs but by last year was back in New Zealand playing for the Chiefs. He was then called into the All Blacks as injury cover and made his international debut for New Zealand soon after.

Wendy says departing Chiefs coach Colin Cooper was the person who essentially “reached out” to Angus, realised he was a larger-than-life character and had confidence in her son’s talent.

But she learnt well before from an Auckland sports administrator that it’s the boys with ongoing parental support who make it in the rugby world which is why she ultimately left Raglan.

Both Angus and his brother Stuart still miss the place they grew up in, Wendy says, not ruling out a return for one or the other at some stage. If that ever happened “perhaps I’ll come and stay there with them”, she ponders.

Angus currently lives over the divvy in Flagstaff where he bought a house last year near some Chiefs players and their young families with whom he and Kristyn socialise.

Edith Symes