At the beginning of the year, while envisaging a pre-COVID season, Dave Rennie explicitly highlighted that Michael Hooper would need to earn his starting Wallabies position and captaincy, which had previously been bestowed without question.
On Tuesday night Harry Johnson-Holmes was eating an $8 schnitzel in a Sydney pub.
Come Saturday night the 22-year-old will be at Johannesburg’s famed Ellis Park, playing for the Wallabies against the Springboks in the Rugby Championship.
The Waratahs rookie was rushed to South Africa after a series of injuries decimated their front-row troops.
With just one training session on the ground, Johnson-Holmes will take his place on the bench at the venue for the 1995 World Cup final, won by the Springboks.
Johnson-Holmes said he had finished Sydney Uni rugby training and was eating dinner and he saw he had a few missed calls from a number he didn’t recognise.
“It turned out to be Chek (Wallabies coach Michael Cheika) and he told me to put down my knife and fork and stop eating the schnitty, and pack my bags, and here I am,” Johnson-Holmes said.
While Cheika told him during that conversation he would be in the matchday 23, Johnson-Holmes thought he must have misheard.
“He mentioned it on the phone but I thought it might have been a figment of my imagination.
“I’m still not sure if it’s true,” he laughed.
Johnson-Holmes spent two weeks training with the Wallabies before their departure for South Africa so he’s familiar with their Rugby Championship game plan.
But with only two seasons of Super Rugby under his belt, admits making his Test debut against South Africa on such a whirlwind preparation is head-spinning.
“I’m still trying to figure it all out and I’m sure I will probably only realise what’s happening when I’m stepping on to the field,” he said.
Cheika said Johnson-Holmes would be up for the challenge.
“Harry is going to come in and he’s going to have so much adrenaline and motivation,” Cheika said.
“He was sitting at the pub in Sydney a night or two ago and now he’s here to play a Test match.”