Whirlwind week ends in whirlwind debut for Johnson-Holmes

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies prop Harry Johnson-Holmes has had a whirlwind week, so it was fitting that his ultimate debut came earlier than expected as well.

Johnson-Holmes didn’t land in South Africa until late on Wednesday, after having his $8 schnitty night halted by a request from Wallabies coach Michael Cheika to pack his bags and head to Johannesburg.

The 22-year-old was named on the bench just two days later and on Saturday was ready to play his first Test.

When starting loosehead James Slipper was helped off for a HIA test in the 49th minute, Johnson-Holmes had barely had time to contemplate the situation.

“I suppose that was almost the most nerve wracking thing, you come all this way and a lot of luck was involved in me being in the position of being on the bench but getting on the field was a whole other thing,” he said.

“I remember sitting on the bench and thinking to myself, ‘I've probably got about 15-20 minutes before I've got to start actually thinking about the mental side of jumping onto the field’, but it was a couple of seconds later that I found myself out in the scrum and went from there as a bit of a blur.”

The front rower was grateful that it was a scrum he found himself in first, though it was certainly no breezy evening at the office.

“I think it was probably the best way I could've asked to get on the field, it's something that I love and also it's a lot less running than if it was a lineout or something,” he said.

“It was nice to jump on there and get amongst the boys, I suppose, as the forward pack welcomed me out when I got there and it was pretty special.”

Playing with Taniela Tupou and Jordan Uelese initially, things were all fairly new for him but he felt that the trio found their groove in their limited minutes together.

“For a first hitout and obviously really fresh combinations between myself, Jordy Uelese and Taniela Tupou, I think we got our connections well, with the little prep that we did have,” he said.

“We've got things we need to work on, it's not ideal we had that collapse penalty early on but to be able to bounce back from that, have a really strong scrum especially with only seven men for 10 minutes of that game, I was pretty happy with that.”

When Tupou was sent to the bin, things got that bit harder but Johnson-Holmes said he felt the side showed grit in their response to that card.

“I'm sure he's a bit disappointed that he wasn't able to be on the field for those 10 minutes but when we got him back out there he definitely made up for it,” he said.

“Obviously it's up to the referees to have their discretion around those kinds of things.

“It obviously hurt losing him but I think especially with the forward pack to be a man down for 10 minutes of that game against a very strong forward pack was good to see resilience there.”

Whether he has a chance next week might depend on the recovery of Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa and Scott Sio but his credentials haven’t been dented in the eyes of coach Michael Cheika.

“I think he handled it quite well, considering he's come in with two days prep,” he said.

"He flew in Wednesday night and he's on the field playing here and he got a significant amount of time, he certainly did himself proud in being out there and being involved as the other debutant did, Naisarani and that's something for him to build on.

“He'll get a few more opportunities with us and we'll see how he builds into that.

“I think that he accepted the challenge pretty well, he was not shy in coming forward to take on the challenge.”

While a clash with the Pumas might be the next thing on his mind, he certainly has some requests for his local pub, the Lord Dudley, when he is back in Sydney after a few days of free publicity for their weekly special.

“I'm hoping to get a few free schnitzels out of it,” he laughed.

“I'm hoping they rename it - Harry Johnson-Holmes Thursday night schnitzels and all that, sorry Tuesday night.

“I reckon it should be $8 every night.

“It's going to make the Lord Dudley hotel a pretty special place for me and it's going to make Tuesday night schnitzels an even more special occasion.

“It was such a bizarre story but some of the sweetest life stories always come from bizarre beginnings.

“Pretty happy with how it all goes, wouldn't change a thing.”

The Wallabies take on Argentina on Saturday July 27 at Suncorp Stadium, kicking off at 8:05pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Kayo and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.