Wallabies debutants Jed Holloway and Matt Gibbon were left fighting back tears describing their journey to their first Australian Test caps after an emotional 15-point come-from-behind victory over Argentina on Sunday morning.
Already missing inspirational captain Michael Hooper, a serious achilles injury to flyhalf Quade Cooper meant Australia had to draw on every reserve of character they had in the 41-26 win in Mendoza, Argentina.
It was a Rugby Championship opener that had it all – but perhaps the best moment for Aussie fans came after the match; when Holloway was brought to tears just how much it meant to pull on the green and gold.
Fighting back tears, you could hear a pin drop amongst the commentators as Holloway front up for a post-match interview.
‘I knew this was going to happen, I told my missus it was bottling up and was going to come out at some stage,’ he said when asked what the win meant to him on the Stan Sport broadcast.
The flanker has not had the dream run to a Wallabies jersey that many youngsters do these days – though a simple Instagram post by Holloway after the game did appear to evoke memories of a fairy-tale.
Jed Holloway lived with his American wife Cayley and daughter Noa in the US before receiving a lifeline by Waratahs coach Darren Coleman
Holloway was cut by the Waratahs in 2020 after toiling for seven years in the side’s engine room, and was left with no choice but to try and continue his career in Japan.
He then moved to the US to be with American wife Cayley and their young daughter Noa – before Holloway said yes to a lifeline from Tahs coach Darren Coleman.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Wallaby Jed Holloway with wife Cayley and daughter Noa enjoying a tropical getaway
Jed Holloway (centre) tackles Argentinian Santiago Carreras during his debut
‘It’s been a lot of hard work and sacrifice gone into this. I wasn’t perfect tonight but it was very special,’ Holloway said.
‘There definitely was (a time where I thought this wouldn’t happen). It was a long shot, but I still believed in myself and she (wife Cayley) believed in me.
‘For her to back me on that (moving back to Australia) I’m just very proud that I can stand here and make her proud, and my family proud,’ said an emotional Holloway.
In a nice twist of fate, the 29-year-old Holloway made his debut alongside a fellow mature-ager, Matt Gibbon, who he grew up with on the NSW north coast.
Childhood mates Matt Gibbon (left) and Jed Holloway (right) made their debuts for the Wallabies against Argentina on Sunday morning
Gibbon, like Holloway, has had a tough journey to become a Wallaby – but more so this week after losing his beloved grandfather.
The 27-year-old grew up in a town near Ballina with his severely mentally disabled parents, before moving to live with grandfather Dave Pollock on his farm.
When Pollock tragically passed away this week, Gibbon was determined to play and honour his memory.
Matt Gibbon with partner Zanthe Heaton after a Melbourne Rebels game
‘My grandad is the biggest reason why I’m playing rugby so it’s tough for me,’ he told the broadcast after the win.
‘To be honest I was pretty calm before the game … but as soon as we started singing the anthem, I was trying to hold back tears. It’s a lifelong dream really.
‘Watching the game on the bench for most of it, I was getting jittery nerves; but as soon as I got on I was so excited … bloody happy to be here,’ said Gibbon.
They weren’t the only emotional Wallabies after the game.
Matt Gibbon’s dream has come true after making his debut for the Wallabies
Stand-in skipper James Slipper dedicating the win to Hooper, who flew home to Australia citing ‘mindset issues’.
‘It’s a real proud moment for me and also the team because we really wanted to put in an effort that our fans could be proud of and also our captain Hoops (Michael Hooper),’ Slipper said post-match.
‘We were thinking about him all day and playing for him.’
Unfortunately the win may have come at a MASSIVE cost with Cooper going down with a ruptured achilles in an innocuous moment.
It means the 34-year-old lynchpin will take no further part in the Rugby Championship, and will be up against it to make next year’s home World Cup.
Given the severity of the diagnosis, it could even, sadly, mean the talisman’s career is under threat.
Centre Len Ikitau crossed for the Wallabies’ fifth try five minutes after full-time in Mendoza to snare a bonus point as they rallied from a 19-10 halftime deficit and piled on 31 points after the break.
Quade Cooper faces a long lay-off after tearing his achilles in the Wallabies match against Argentina
The opening half was a messy affair, with a 10-3 penalty count against the Wallabies, despite the fact they dominated the Pumas in almost all other parts of the game – meaning they went into the first half down 19-10.
Australia found a gear after half-time, and it was Argentina, coached by former Wallabies mentor Michael Cheika, who found themselves on the wrong side of the referee’s whistle.
Tries to Len Ikitau and Folau Fainga’a to go with a penalty try, helped the Wallabies pile 31 points on after the break, and an entertaining try well after the siren secured what may be a crucial bonus point.
Reece Hodge also stepped up well in the absence of Cooper’s goalkicking abilities, banging on four goals in the second half to secure the 15-point win.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie praised the resiliency of his side during the win over Argentina on Sunday morning
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was very proud of the way his side responded to adversity.
‘We created first-half opportunities that we didn’t take but I thought we were far more clinical and applied a lot more pressure (in the second half),’ Rennie told the broadcast.
‘I was really happy with the way we finished. We’ve got more in us but I was really happy with the character.
‘We had a couple of late changes and losing a key guy in the game. The thing about this group, a lot of character and courage. and they stood up,’ said Rennie.
The Wallabies face Argentina again next Sunday morning (AEST) in San Juan, with Hodge and Noah Lolesio set to battle it out to replace Cooper in the number 10 jumper.