Silver lining in Uelese's debut surprise

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

"Jordan, you're on."

Those three words and the image of Tatafu Polota-Nau coming from the field in Perth were the only warning Jordan Uelese had that he was about to make his Wallabies debut.

It came far earlier than the rookie expected, prepared for an injection in the final 20 minutes, with little time to comprehend the moment when it actually came in the 18th minute.

“They were like ,'Jordan, you're on.' and I just had to quickly run on,” he said.

“Obviously I prepared all week for when I came on, that finishing role that I had a job to do and I think the lads prepared me very well if the opportunity did arise I'd be ready to do the job.

“I was pretty nervous at first but honestly it happened so quick that I just had to go on and go straight into fifth gear.”

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said jokingly he was in some ways pleased Polota-Nau had that concussion test, throwing Uelese into the fray with little time to overthink the occasion.

“Taf's not going to want to hear this but I was pumped, because the other guy was going to get on and have a run,” he said.

“That type of thing was ideal, he doesn't expect it, he's not even nervous.

“I know he had the lineout that went a bit sideways but he got in there, first scrum did really well, then he had that lineout had a good lineout pressure on his own line five metres out, hit the mark and then a good carry.

“He got into it and he's a talent, he's a talent.”

Uelese has racked up close to as many minutes for the Wallabies as he has in Super Rugby, with 21 in gold, after having come off the bench three times for the Rebels for a total of 28.

Friends and family flooded his phone with so many messages he had to switch it off ahead of the game to keep his focus, but the youngster was able to absorb the moment post-match.

“The build-up was absolutely incredible, had all my family, my schoolmates, my clubmates, and everyone who's been in the background of my rugby career growing up send me messages, which was awesome and I think I really played for them today,” he said.

“I looked in the crowd at my parents, who obviously are the most proudest people right now in my background.

“It was awesome to have people message me all week and that definitely made Victoria proud I suppose.”

Former skipper Stephen Moore returns to camp next week, after the birth of his third child, but there was no melancholy from Uelese about potentially being pushed down the pecking order.

“I've been approaching each week as I always have been and if I do get the opportunity to play (I do) and if not then I'm still pushing Taf and Moorey because it definitely makes us better players at the end of the day,” he said.

“If that competition wasn't there, I think we'd be mediocre hookers.”

Moore and Polota-Nau have been influential for Uelese, and the latter was quick to lavish praise on the potential heir to the Wallabies’ hooking spot.

“Probably got him a bit nervous in the first half coming off early but I was confident he'd fill the role,” he said.

“That's what we tried to emulate during the week is the fact that, whoever steps in the role, they should be ready to go and I'm pretty sure just watching him training during the week, he was more than ready to go.”

The Wallabies flew to Canberra on Sunday afternoon, ahead of Saturday’s clash with Argentina.