Dream come true for Anae in Wallabies camp
Albert Anae was expecting to board the Bay of Plenty team bus to Rugby Park in Whakatane on Tuesday afternoon, instead he ended up on a plane to Sydney to pack down with faces more familiar to the Wellington-born Queensland Reds front rower.
Anae was poised to make his first appearance for the Steamers in their trial match against Manawatu, but his pre-match meal had barely settled before noticing he had missed a call from Wallabies captain James Horwill.
"I got a couple of missed calls and I returned the one that I knew (Horwill), he put me on to 'Link' (Ewen McKenzie)."
The Wallabies head coach, who encouraged Anae to complement his propping skills by mastering the art of hooking when in charge of the Reds, had another encouraging development for the quietly-spoken 23-year-old - despite initial misgivings.
"I seriously thought I was in trouble for something. I was trying to backtrack (and think) what I've done wrong. I thought I was pretty sweet," he said.
Turns out Anae was in the clear - and required as cover for injury-plagued hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau.
A hamstring strain forced the Waratahs' stalwart to pull out of the Wallabies initial 40-man squad though the luckless Polota-Nau - who missed the British and Irish Lions series with a fractured arm - is still expected to feature in the Rugby Championship.
Anae, who was at Tauranga Airport 20 minutes after speaking to McKenzie, may yet play for BOP in the national provincial championship as McKenzie trims his squad to 30 tomorrow.
A specialist loosehead, Anae is currently behind Benn Robinson, Scott Sio and James Slipper as potential cornerstones against the All Blacks in Sydney next Saturday, but that realisation could not dampen his enthusiasm when he received his team issue gear yesterday.
"It was humbling enough to put on this training shirt. There's a lot of blood, sweat and tears and a lot of years behind me. You don't fluke this sort of opportunity," he said.
Anae's family relocated to Brisbane after he first experienced rugby when his father Sio would cycle them down to Maidstone Park, home of the Upper Hutt Rugby Football Club.
Fittingly, Anae made his Super Rugby debut against the Hurricanes in Wellington in 2011, although it was a bittersweet experience - Sio succumbed to a diabetes-related illness a month before.
"He'll be very proud," said Anae, as he takes a step closer to representing his adopted home.
McKenzie, who has also lost the services of Brumbies lock Peter Kimlin (broken thumb) since the squad assembled, said Anae was a worthy addition.
"Albert is still young for a front-rower but his versatility is a real asset, while he also possesses the appropriate size and strength to adapt positively to the new scrum laws.
"You're always searching for players with a lot of potential and Albert is a guy who will learn plenty from being part of the national environment."
Anae, meanwhile, was still getting his head around his new surroundings.
"I was looking forward to the next nine weeks with Bay of Plenty. Long-term I was thinking about the end of year tour (to UK, Ireland and Italy).
"That was all my focus, I never thought I'd be here for this camp," he said, realising he could yet be lining up for a long-distance flight in November.