Jed Holloway thought his dream of playing for the Wallabies had died in 2020 when he was let go by the New South Wales Waratahs but a change in attitude resurrected his career and on Saturday he will play his first Test.
The abrasive loose forward would have made his debut in last month’s series against England but for a calf injury and so he will finally get to wear the gold shirt against Argentina in the Rugby Championship opener in Mendoza.
“It’s pretty surreal,” the 29-year-old told reporters from Argentina on Friday. “Something last year I thought would never come. There was a little setback, but it wouldn’t be a part of my journey if I didn’t have a setback.”
Holloway conceded that the injury setback would have sent him off the rails earlier in his career, but a new perspective as a family man with a young daughter had kept him on an even keel.
“I’m a better player, better person, it just allows me to just really enjoy my footy,” he said. “I’m really happy that my form throughout the year has given me this opportunity and now it’s just taking it on Saturday.”
After being cut loose by the Waratahs two years ago, Holloway played for Toyota Verblitz in Japan and had a spell living in Florida. His second chance at the Waratahs this season almost did not come about with coach Darren Coleman initially sceptical that Holloway was a good fit for his rebuild project in Sydney.
“I knew I needed to come home with the right attitude,” Holloway recalled. “I knew I had the ability but the work ethic and attitude weren’t there.”
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said Holloway fully deserved his chance after a fine season for the resurgent Waratahs, where he mainly played in the second row.
“He’s had to be patient but he’s got a really good skillset,” said the New Zealander.
“He’s a good lineout forward and he’s got a bit of an edge about him and we think that’s going to be important going into the weekend.”
The flanker’s excitement on Friday was amplified by the inclusion on the bench of uncapped prop Matt Gibbon, whose brother Holloway grew up playing country rugby with in northern New South Wales.
There will also be a familiar face in the shape of Pumas coach Michael Cheika, who first brought Holloway to the Waratahs in 2013 and later included him in Wallabies training squads.
“I know Cheik, he’ll be fired up, he’ll probably be throwing golf clubs against walls like he did for us at the Waratahs,” Holloway laughed. “He’ll have them fired up, so we’ll need to be ready to go as well.”
Wallabies: Tom Wright, Jordan Petaia, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (captain), Jed Holloway, Matt Philip, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Reserves: Lachlan Lonergan, Matt Gibbon, Taniela Tupou, Nick Frost, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge.
Argentina: Juan Cruz Mallia, Santiago Cordero, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Emiliano Boffelli, Santiago Carreras, Tomas Cubelli; Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Julian Montoya (captain), Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro. Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Thomas Gallo, Joel Sclavi, Santiago Grondona, Rodrigo Bruni, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Tomas Albornoz, Matias Moroni.