Wallabies coach hails tour a success after Houdini act in Cardiff
REACTION: Dave Rennie has hailed the Wallabies’ rollercoaster end-of-year tour a success after watching his brave, makeshift outfit complete an epic 39-34 comeback win over Wales.
The Wallabies rallied from 21 points down with 23 minutes remaining to finish the five-game tour on an incredible high in Cardiff.
Wing Mark Nawaqanitawase and replacement hooker Lachlan Lonergan were the heroes as Australia snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at the Millennium Stadium.
Nawaqanitawase bagged a second-half double and also played a key role in the lead-up to Lonergan’s match-winning try, two minutes from full-time, as the Wallabies recovered from 13-34 down.
Adding to the drama, the Wallabies lost skipper James Slipper to a first-half head knock and were reduced to 13 men early in the second half following yellow cards for scrumhalf Jake Gordon and hooker Folau Fainga’a.
But their never-say-die approach yielded a win for the ages.
The Houdini act also relieved some pressure on coach Rennie, who had been staring down the barrel of presiding over Australia’s worst win-loss record in a calendar year since 1958 following consecutive narrow tour defeats to France, Italy and Ireland.
“It’s good for our group. We lost three on the bounce by close scores and all games we could have won,” Rennie said.
“We could have been going home with five victories or no victories. Our supporters have been put through the wringer with us, so it’s nice to get a result.”
Rennie’s constant chopping and changing, be it because of injuries or ongoing uncertainty around what is Australia’s best team, led to the coach using 51 players in 2022.
Replacement prop Sam Talakai was the latest debutant after winning his first cap in Cardiff.
Rennie, though, believes the European tour served as priceless experience for the Wallabies a year out from the World Cup in France.
“The time over here has been good for our group, for the belief, for the hard work,” he said.
It’s certainly been a good time for emerging mainstay Nawaqanitawase and Lonergan, who went from hero to villain to hero again in a matter of minutes.
After scoring the try that put the Wallabies in front with the clock winding down, Lonergan conceded a penalty that put Wales deep in attack before stealing the ball and booting it in to touch to spark joyous celebrations from teammates.
“Pretty stoked,” Lonergan said.
“We were in the trenches there in the first half. At half-time we came together and said ‘we need to get a result’.
“Obviously our captain went down with that head knock. So as a team, we said we had to do it for him, our country, do it for Australia.”
With nine players, including big guns Michael Hooper and Taniela Tupou, ruled out of the tour injured, Rennie only had 25 players to choose from for his matchday 23.
And with Slipper gone and his side falling more than 20 points behind after two converted tries to Wales early in the second half, the Wallabies looked dead and buried.
But Nawaqanitawase ignited the comeback with fine finishing tries in the 57th and 67th minutes before another inspired burst set up Lonergan’s game-breaker at the death.
“As you can see by the other games, we’ve only lost by a point to the top teams so don’t lose faith in us,” Nawaqanitawase said.
“We’ve got a strong team here. We back ourselves so hopefully everyone else backs us as well.”