It’s been an exceptional maiden Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens campaign for nineteen-year-old Tim Anstee. He hasn’t missed a tournament of the opening eight, and even saved his best moment thus far for home when he scored a hat-trick of tries against Scotland at the Sydney Sevens in February.
This shouldn’t, however, come as to much surprise for those who have followed the Baulkham Hills junior and former William Clarke College student’s Rugby career closely, as he has long been earmarked for success.
An Australian Schoolboys star in the fifteen-a-side game in 2015, Anstee also represented Australia at the Youth Commonwealth Games in Samoa that same year before breaking through to play for Eastwood Shute Shield level in 2016 and leading Australia to a Gold Medal at the World University Games in Swansea last July, alongside fellow Men’s Sevens squad members Mick Adams, Lachlan Anderson, Liam McNamara, Connor Mitchell and Brandon Quinn.
A stand-out performance at the Central Coast Sevens in October sealed him a World Series debut in Dubai and now, with the penultimate leg of the series kicking off this weekend in Paris, Anstee is one of just three players in the Australian squad (alongside Henry Hutchison and James Stannard) to have featured in every tournament thus far, scoring eight tries in the process.
“I signed my part-time contract in September 2016 and when I spoke to ‘Friendy’ (Head Coach Andy Friend) at the time I was simply hoping that there might be a slight chance of making my debut at some stage on the World Series and playing in one or two tournaments,” Anstee told RUPA.
“To be looking back now, having played in all eight tournaments, it has certainly exceeded my expectations and I’m pinching myself; it’s come as such a surprise!”
Anstee is part of a new wave of players coming through the Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens squad, with the likes of Anderson, Tate McDermott, McNamara, Dylan Pietsch and Charlie Taylor all breaking through for the first time this year and helping fill the voids left by the likes of Cameron Clark, Tom Cusack, Con Foley and Henry Speight, who returned to XVs after the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last August.
“There is a lot of new energy in the squad since quite a few guys finished up after the Olympics,” Anstee says. “With several squad changes there, and then quite a lot of unfortunate injuries to some of our most experienced players this year, they’ve had no option but to blood a lot of young blokes in the 2016/2017 season.
“It’s taken a little bit of time, but now we’re heading in the right direction, starting to get some better results and make inroads on the World Series, where hopefully we can continue to build.”
With such a young group coming through and the sport well, and with some big tournaments to come in the next three years as well as the World Series, will the nucleus of this squad resist the urge of returning to XVs a side Rugby for at least the next few years?
“When you’re a kid, the reality is that you grow up thinking about (playing) Super Rugby and Wallabies, and to be completely honest being a full-time Rugby Sevens player probably wasn’t the goal for any of us,” he said. “That’s all beginning to change now that it is an Olympic sport, and there is a pathway there to make a career solely out of Rugby Sevens if that’s what you want to do. It’s not necessary seen as a pathway for XVs anymore.
“I’m nineteen years old and I have been to eight different countries in the past four months. I’m living the dream, playing an attacking and fun brand of footy and seeing the world, and to be honest it is pretty special.
“As a group, we have spoken about the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and that is always in the back of your mind. There hasn’t been heaps of chat about the Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast) and Rugby Sevens World Cup (San Francisco) next year, but I’m sure that as we start our pre-season in a couple of months that’ll change. At the moment, we do want to stay together and move forward together. There’s a good vibe amongst the squad, the future’s looking bright and we want to achieve success.”
Outside of the youngsters making their mark on the world stage, the Men’s Sevens squad has also been able to lean heavily on the advice of some elder statesmen as well.
“It’s good having ‘old heads’ in the squad such as Ed (Jenkins), Chucky (James Stannard) and Sammy Myers, and it’s encouraging to see that even though they’ve been doing this for a long time they’re still really enjoying it and they’re still passionate about it. They provide so much wisdom and their encouragement gives you confidence that you can sustain a career in this sport for a long time if you’re committed enough.”
Away from Rugby, Anstee stays busy with study, where he’s undertaking a Bachelor of Business majoring in Sports Management & Marketing at Western Sydney University.
“It’s been hard with the amount of travel I have been doing, especially as I wasn’t expecting to get picked as often, and I’m back to one subject and one night at Uni this semester,” he says.
“I tend to take my laptop and Uni textbooks away on tour, and while I was in Hong Kong I even managed to schedule a Skype session for a group assignment.
"I don’t especially like studying while I am away on tour but sometimes the deadlines mean you have no choice, so you just need to balance it to make sure you can find the time while you are away.”
It's at this point of the interview that the subject matter becomes a little less serious, and I have to ask Tim about something a couple of his teammates have filled me in on; and you can tell that he doesn’t see it coming. Is there any truth in the rumour that he moonlights as a certain baby blue, Rugby themed super hero?
“I do a little bit of work as a NSW Rugby Development Officer, which mainly involves activating the Game On program in schools, but it has also seen me doing a few Tah Man gigs,” he laughs. “I’ve never done a Waratahs game, but I have done the Shute Shield Grand Final, the State Championships and a couple of sponsor days.”
For such a shy young man, it seems an amazing transformation and I put it to him that it is almost Spiderman-esque.
“I’m a bit of a quiet guy but I don’t know if I would go as far as saying I’m like Peter Parker turning into Spiderman, though I do try and put a lot of personality into it and give 110% when I am actually Tah Man!
“It’s good that you have the suit on and all the muscles, but it’s just a bit of fun getting the kids excited, showing off the guns. You can be a different person when you’re in the suit and I’ve quite enjoyed doing it, it’s a little different!”
All jokes aside, it’s great to see Tim keeping himself busy away from Rugby with work and study. As he himself points out, while his rise this year has been quite meteoric h also knows how quickly it can all be over.
“They always say that you’re only one injury from not playing, and you definitely need to have a backup plan,” he says. “It’s good that RUPA encourages us to study and that (Player Development Manager) Gina (Rees) is here to help with everything we need, from enrolment to other life skills courses such as first aid and cooking. Going to Uni is really important for me, and it’s good to know that if Rugby doesn’t turn out the way I want it then I’ve embarked on another plan there.”
The Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens team currently sit sixth in the World Rugby Sevens Series standings, heading into this weekend’s penultimate round in Paris. Australia is in Pool D and plays Russia (Saturday 6:22pm), Samoa (Saturday 9:48pm) and Fiji (Sunday 1:14am), live on Fox Sports. (All times AEST)
Click here for the Paris Rugby Sevens fixtures.
Click here for the Australian Men’s Rugby Sevens team announcement for the Paris Sevens.
Click here for the World Rugby Sevens series standing.