Wallabies No.8 Ben McCalman set for 21st Test, spurred on by the memory of his late father
Jamie Pandaram The Daily Telegraph December 02, 2011 7:05AM

Dedication ... McCalman says much of his success is down to the efforts of his late father. . Source: AAP

In an age where athletes incessantly remind themselves and the press of the importance of looking forward, Ben McCalman doesn't mind a glance backwards.

The Wallabies backrower owes much to his past, and his late father Duncan, for implanting the steel in his 106kg frame.

In revealing to The Daily Telegraph the tragedy that continues to spur him, McCalman indicates that memories of a proud father's sideline gazes are never far.

"Finishing my last year of school and losing my father, I was only 18 years old. He used to watch all my games," McCalman said.

"There was more drive from that to train harder and try to play for my country.

"It was very clear to him that was what I always wanted to do. He always believed that I could really go wherever I wanted to go if I put my mind to it. I'm sure he'd be very proud."

But his rugby dreams could have easily crumbled without the intimacy of his family; mother Jenny and brothers Andy and Bill and support from an unexpected source.

"It was very difficult for me, my final year at school, doing my HSC," McCalman said.

"I was living in a boarding school in Orange and my ex-girlfriend Courtney's family (Kate and Merv Bilske) took me in for three months and I lived with them.

"They helped me during a hard time in my life and I can't thank them enough."

At just 23, McCalman is on the verge of his 21st Test, at Millennium Stadium this weekend. It has, literally, been a long road for the country boy from Warren, a small farming town eight hours drive from Sydney.

"My parents were very good when I was younger, travelling a couple of hundred kilometres to take me to a game of footy," McCalman said. "Dad never complained about that. Took me wherever I needed to go."

It probably explains why this week McCalman has overcome an eye infection so nasty the team doctor was forced to cut the lid open to release pus, to resume his place at No.8.

And why after being given the impossible task of playing back-up to David Pocock in the unfamiliar position of openside flanker during Rugby World Cup 2011, McCalman is emphatic about his future.

"At times I probably struggled to play seven, I was learning on the go really," he said. "For the last little while I've been moved around from six to seven to eight. Now I would just like to play No.8.

"It's important you can play other positions but at the end of the day that's my position, I really want to play that and really push to be the starting No.8 in whatever team I play."

After this Test, while some teammates begin a European holiday, McCalman will take the 30-hour journey from Cardiff to Sydney and head straight to his family's 6000ha wheat farm, where there is plenty of work to be done.

"It's harvesting time, so we've got to get straight into that," he said.

"It's getting pretty hot so we'll have to rise pretty early to get things done.

"One day, whether it be that farm or I buy my land somewhere, I'll be back in the country."

Because for McCalman, there is comfort in going back.