After finishing the Super Rugby season “pissed off”, Noah Lolesio says a five-month stint in the south of France has reignited his love of rugby.
Told he didn’t “attack enough” by Eddie Jones, Lolesio never got a look-in under the recently departed Wallabies coach.
“I was pretty pissed off,” Lolesio told The Roar. “Just at the whole situation, really.
“During that time, when I found out that I wasn’t going to be in the Wallabies going for the World Cup, it was very disappointing. I was very disappointed but happy for all the Brumbies boys that made the team.”
But it was Jones’ next move that got Lolesio’s blood boiling even more.
“When I was in France and they told us the squad, I was even angrier. Not just for myself, but for other boys that should have been in there as well,” he said.
“It was a frustrating time, not just for myself, for a lot of guys.”
Jones might have struggled to articulate Lolesio’s name at his first press conference back on Australian shores as Wallabies coach, but only two months earlier the Brumbies playmaker had played an instrumental role in their massive come-from-behind win over Wales in Cardiff.
For many, the fighting win, which was sealed by a late Lachlan Lonergan try and turnover on their own line after regular time, looked like being enough for Dave Rennie to keep his job and, at the same time, looked like it could be the catalyst for Lolesio after his starring role.
In the end, Rennie never coached the Wallabies again and Lolesio, whose Brumbies reached yet another semi-final with his accurate boot proving decisive in their run to the last four, was continually looked past under Jones, with fellow youngsters Ben Donaldson and Carter Gordon instead preferred.
The decision saw the 17-Test Wallaby take up a short-term deal with Toulon.
He arrived there in July and sparked up an unlikely relationship with Test rugby’s most capped player Alun Wyn Jones – a man 15 years Lolesio’s senior.
“He was sort of like my dad when I was over there,” Lolesio said.
“I wasn’t expecting him to be so down to earth considering his resume. He’s obviously done it all. When I found out that he was going to be at Toulon, I was kind of like nervous and scared because the guy’s probably twice my age.
“He gave some great advice. He asked, ‘Why, why I wasn’t in the Wallabies picture?’
“I told him the whole situation. He just said, ‘Oh well, your next opportunity will come, just stay ready, train hard, and just enjoy it.’
“That’s probably the one thing I got the most out of my time in Toulon is just the enjoyment of footy and seeing how many people actually love the game over there.”
Lolesio might have played just seven matches during his time in the French Top 14, but such was his impact that the glamour club asked him to stay for another month.
He opted to come home to ensure he put himself in the best position ahead of next year’s Super Rugby season, but before departing French shores Lolesio helped them to two crucial wins over Racing 92 and Clermont away.
“I think that’s why I came out of it so happy because I finished on such a high,” he said.
“Al’s [Jones’] last name and winning in Clermont, which is a really rare thing apparently. I didn’t know that, at the time. But it was a great way to finish my little tenure there.
“Before leaving, I wouldn’t have known that I would have enjoyed it that much.
“It was just very refreshing for me to be in a different country, a different rugby environment, different rugby style of play, different lifestyle in general.
“It helped my love of the game, especially knowing that I wouldn’t in the Wallabies set up before I left.”
Lolesio returned to Brumbies headquarters last week to join the rest of his teammates in pre-season training for their final three-week block of the year.
It will be his fifth pre-season, having debuted for the Brumbies in 2020.
In many respects, it’s only now that the Australian public should be starting to see what Lolesio is made of.
Instead, he’s won Tests against the All Blacks and France, South Africa and Wales.
“I debuted [for the Wallabies] when I was 20 years old, so if you had told me in 2019, before my debut year, that I would play 17 games for Australia in my first four years, I would have been really happy with it. I would have been cheering. I’ve got to put things into perspective,” he said.
Perspective is something Lolesio has had to learn quickly since his tough debut against the All Blacks at the Olympic Stadium, where he and Irae Simone became the first 10-12 pairing to debut against the All Blacks on the same night since the game turned professional.
The match ended in a thud, with the All Blacks winning 43-5 with Lolesio’s early second-half try the Wallabies’ only points of the day.
While Lolesio tasted success a week later off the bench against the All Blacks, since then the playmaker has generally either started or been out of the 23 altogether.
At the same time, he saw Rennie turn first to veteran James O’Connor, before then turning to fellow older pros Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley.
For most, the rollercoaster ride would create endless head noise and self-doubt.
But it says plenty about Lolesio and Rennie that the playmaker respected the head coach despite the constant speed bumps.
“It definitely was hard,” Lolesio admitted.
“It taught me how to be really resilient at times. That seems like forever ago now, man. Holy. It was tough, particularly at a young age. From winning that French series, playing the All Blacks and then not playing at all, it takes a big toll on you emotionally, mentally.
“I was 20 when I debuted against the All Blacks as a starting 10. It’s asking a lot.
“To be honest, I loved being coached by Dave Rennie. I liked how detailed he was and I bought into everything he said. Obviously, we had a lot of difficult conversations throughout his time coaching the Wallabies, but I think I’m better for it.
“I’ve been through the best and the worst within my first four years internationally.”
Lolesio credits his family for getting him through the “highs and lows”.
2024 shapes as another defining year in Lolesio’s unique journey.
Off-contract at the end of next season, the Wallabies’ pecking order could decide his next move, particularly after an enjoyable stint abroad.
Throw in a third Wallabies coach in three years, with current Brumbies mentor Stephen Larkham and former boss Dan McKellar firmly in the mix, everything is up for grabs.
“Obviously, with all the Wallabies stuff that’s happened over the last 11-12 months, it’s a really uneasy time,” Lolesio said.
“I’m sure all players are feeling it, it’s a very uneasy time with regards to who the Wallabies coach is going to be, with what’s going on with the merger [alignment] with Rugby Australia and the Super Rugby clubs. There’s a lot of unknown factors, but hopefully all those variables are sorted before the season starts, so the boys can just focus on the footy.”
As for Lolesio’s next step, it’s fair to say that the playmaker is an open book.
“It was really good [the experience overseas]. It was definitely something I needed. Who knows. I’d love to go back there. Whether it’s next year or in five years, we’ll see what happens,” Lolesio said.
For a rugby nation that finally has several playmakers approaching their mid-20s, locking down Australia’s playmakers heading into the country’s crunch four-year cycle would seem essential.