Two weeks ago, 19-year-old Waratahs prop Angus Bell was in his bedroom when he received the best news of his life via a short phone call from Wallabies assistant Scott Wisemantel.
After hanging up, Bell burst out the door and ran straight over to his father Mark; a mentor, coach and a mate.
“I made it,” Bell told his dad, the former Wallaby who played a solitary Test in 1996 against Canada and is now his scrum coach at the Waratahs.
For the Bell family, with rugby all through their blood, it was a beautiful moment.
“It was surprising in one way but exhilarating for him,” Bell Snr told the Herald of Angus being included in a 44-man Wallabies squad. “It [a Wallaby jersey] is just the pinnacle of anything really. Mate, it’d be astronomical. You work all your life for it. He’s very grounded and knows what it takes to get there.”
“He said, ‘if I pull on a gold jersey I won’t let you down’. It makes you very proud when he says things like that to you.
“He’s got a little bit more talent than me that’s for sure. He’s athletic and faster. It must come from the other side of the family.”
The Wallabies are now in New Zealand, undergoing hotel isolation until early next week before the first Bledisloe Test on October 11. As 204 days Jordan Petaia’s junior, Bell will have a few days to himself with Wally, the team mascot given to the youngest player in the squad, before teammates inevitably try to steal it off him.
Even after a terrific debut Super Rugby season Bell might not don a Wallabies jersey in the coming weeks. If he does don a gold jersey, Bell said it would be very much down to the help of his old man.
Were there any finals words?
“He said treat every session like a Test match,” Bell said. “I’d be lying if I said he didn’t play a huge role. From my younger years, he’s helped me so much and through school especially. He’s excelled and advanced my set-piece game.
“As I came out of my room, I ran up to him and gave him a massive hug. It was a great moment and probably one of the best of days of my life.”
Bell was only about a year old when Mark retired from rugby and has watched tapes of his games at the Waratahs and only international outing as a reliable hooker.
“Me and my brother watch them and put crap on him, which is pretty funny,” Bell said.
It’s all very surreal for Bell, who as a seven-year-old used to trudge around Queensland Reds training when his dad was there as a forwards coach. He’d play with the likes of Rob Simmons and James Slipper, now veterans in this Wallabies squad, in the early days of their career.
“Simmo was the second-rower there and used to kick the footy with him,” Bell Snr said. “When I was coaching this year, I said to Simmo, ‘now you’re old, that fat kid running around with a big head is now playing footy with you’. It’s very funny how the wheel turned.”
Bell still lives at home and there’s a scrum machine in the backyard – Mark reckons he can’t get rid of it – and footy feedback is always on offer.
“He thinks he can out-scrum me, so we used to pack a few scrums against each other every now and then,” Bell Snr said. “We sit down and watch his games. I do it as a coach, not a dad, and then after that we go back to father and son. He’s very open to advice and loves to listen. He speaks to the likes of Richard Harry, Andrew Blades and Phil Kearns for advice. He’s probably a really good victim of his environment.”
Bell Snr jokes that he’s pleased to not have a “gorilla walking around the house eating everything” while his son is on tour with the Wallabies
Angus knows he has to bide his time but feels he’s ready to make the step up.
“Whenever Dave [Rennie] thinks my time is, then that’s my time,” Bell said. “If that opportunity arises, I will be very excited and definitely ready.
Nonetheless, his dad is proud as punch.
“Who knows what can happen,” he said. “I told him, ‘never say never mate, prepare like you’re going into a Test match every training session because you don’t know what’s going to happen. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, go harder again’.”