Team-mates playfully call him “a relic” yet stunned 38-year-old prop Greg Holmes feels like he’s about to make his Wallabies debut all over again.
Holmes debuted for the Wallabies at 22 way, way back in 2005 before the iPhone was invented and Wallabies teammate Jordan Petaia was just five-years-old.
The astonishing span between his first and last Tests will be 16 years when he runs on as a replacement against Argentina at Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
He will share the tag as the oldest to play for the Wallabies since World War II when he joins the late Tony “Slaggy” Miller, who was also 38-years-old for his final Test at prop in 1967.
It will be a glorious finale to a Test career of extraordinary longevity because Holmes has already decided he has to do the right thing by his heavily pregnant wife Alana.
There’ll be no Spring tour to Japan and Europe to follow. Every Test minute in gold will be savoured on Saturday because it is the comeback he never imagined. Again.
“It’s pretty amazing. It almost feels like my first cap again,” the popular Holmes said on Thursday when named on the bench.
"When I left Australia in 2016 I thought that I'd played for my country for the last time.
“I hope Taniela (Tupou) doesn’t get through the full 80. I’m playing behind probably the best tighthead in the world so hopefully he leaves me a few minutes.”
It’s five years since Holmes played his 27th Test in 2016. That doesn’t even rate as a wait between caps for him.
He’d already gone seven years, nine months and 19 days between call-ups between 2007 and 2015.
You love to see unlikely rewards like this call-up for one of rugby’s genuine guys.
If Allan Alaalatoa hadn’t returned to Canberra for the birth of his own child, Pone Fa’amausili’s hamstring hadn’t played up and COVID hadn’t restricted border moments, this chance for Holmes would not have happened.
Back even further, it was pure chance. It was a chance hook-up with coach Dave Rennie at the Bledisloe Cup lunch before the September 5 Test in Perth.
“It was pretty funny actually. I’d been doing some coaching at the Western Force and I’m sitting at a table with some of the Wallabies’ guys at the Bledisloe luncheon,” Holmes explained.
“I asked Dave if I could watch some unit sessions and take some notes around coaching.
“A few days later I get a missed call and I’m thinking it’s about the coaching. It turns out there were a few issues around the props and Dave asked me to join in as a player for a month. I jumped at it.”
There were no more luncheon beers. Holmes has been hard at it building his strength and scrummaging case at training for a few weeks.
“I was pretty fortunate to join the squad but I knew there wasn’t that much (prop) cover so I saw there was a chance (at selection),” Holmes said.
It’s all to do with having another reliable, sturdy scrummager which is what Holmes has built his career on at the Queensland Reds, the Wallabies, English club Exeter and the Force.
“Look, he’s done well. We wanted an experienced guy ready to go for scrummaging and what we expect Argentina will come at us with,” Rennie said.
“Greg is as surprised as anyone. When the team was announced at our meeting, he was already applauding the guy who he thought would be on the bench and now it’s him. It was a popular call with the players.”
Flanker Sean McMahon chimed into the friendly niggle after Holmes enjoyed what he called the “hoopla” of hearing his name read out.
“They call him a relic but this is unreal. He’s a great man on and off the field,” McMahon said.
“I’d love to be rolling around the field in my 40s. ‘Holmesy’ might still be playing then.”
One of the more obscure reasons for Holmes’ longevity is the enhanced lung capacity and recuperative powers of his great love for spear fishing.
Holmes knows his role on Saturday is just to help the Wallabies finish the game strongly because the young prop starting in the No.3 jersey has everything.
Holmes was the old bull when Tupou first arrived at the Reds as a teenager in 2014 to show his raw skills.
“You could see how special he was going to be. It’s almost unfair for someone to have that many attributes,” Holmes said of his 130kg-plus mate.
“He’s stronger than everyone, he’s faster, he’s as athletic as anyone and he’s as skilful as anyone. He’s a freak of nature.
“He’s not 'probably' the best tighthead in the world. He is the best tighthead.”
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Holmes’ time with the Wallabies this time may be brief but he’s delighted at where Rennie’s team is pointed.
"When I first came into the Wallabies (in 2005), we had very sharp backline but some issues with our set piece,” Holmes said.
“At the moment, I see a full team firing. The pack can match it with any team in the world and we have sharp backs with Quadie (Cooper) pulling the strings.
“It’s a really settled team across the board now with depth."
More than that, Holmes sees “coaches and players all on the same page.”
If his farewell to the Wallabies is to be measured in a few precious minutes, Greg Holmes will relish doing his bit to secure a fourth Test win in a row.