Despite loss to Rebels, Johnson-Holmes return provides positives for Waratahs

Thu, Mar 16, 2023, 2:23 AM
Waratahs Media
by Waratahs Media
Harry Johnson-Holmes made a welcome return from his long-term Achillies injury last weekend
Harry Johnson-Holmes made a welcome return from his long-term Achillies injury last weekend

Despite a narrow loss to the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park last Friday, the NSW Waratahs still had plenty to smile about with the return of veteran prop Harry Johnson-Holmes from a long-term Achilles injury.

Johnson-Holmes came off the bench at halftime replacing Archer Holz, gaining forty minutes of valuable game time in his first match since the 2022 Qualifying Final loss against the Chiefs. Speaking about his return from injury, Johnson-Holmes exhibited remarkable perspective on his long rehab process.

“Going through that whole period of time was tough, we had some dark days in rehab and yeah I guess nights like last Friday, to be able to get back into the sky blue and play with my mates and represent my own state makes those dark days all worth it,” Johnson-Holmes said.

“At the end of the day, I’m getting paid to play a game that I love playing [and] there’s plenty of people out there doing worse and going through tougher things.

“Having to walk around in a moonboot isn’t as bad as doing some of the stuff that people in all parts of the world do”.

“When I did come back, it was just going to be that much sweeter to get back into that sky blue, and hopefully back into that gold”, Johnson-Holmes said.

The Waratahs were left ruing their missed chances against the Rebels and their inability to close out the match once they regained the lead in the second half. Nevertheless, Johnson-Holmes remains optimistic that the team can bounce back.

“For us, it is things we can fix. If you just get out-beaten because you are not good enough, things are a worry. For us, it was a lot of things that were in our control,” Johnson-Holmes said.

“The Rebels were really good at taking their opportunities with momentum.

“Langi was centimetres away from a try, as was Nemani. End of the day, that’s footy… we were just a bit unlucky early on and I think that just amounted a bit of score board pressure on us”.

Waratahs Forwards Coach Pauli Taumoepeau was thrilled to welcome back Johnson-Holmes, not just for his rugby skills, but for what he adds to the locker room.

“Harry’s great for our rugby but also really good for team morale,” Taumoepeau said.

“When the team morale is good, and the more leaders that you got on the field at any one time who can take you through different moments in the game, the better it is”.

But after Round Three’s defeat and judging by the response in the dressing room immediately after the game, Taumoepeau was expecting his team won’t be short of motivation to bounce back this weekend.

“I think as a coach when there’s a defeat, you look around the changeroom and see what the moods like, and probably get a little bit upset if there’s a bit of joy or laughter around because you want them to hurt, right? You want to make sure that there’s a bit of feeling behind it and there was. It was a pretty dead changeroom, as you’d expect,” Taumoepeau added.

The Waratahs face a dangerous Hurricanes outfit this Friday night who welcome back their talismanic Captain Ardie Save after his one-week suspension. Johnson-Holmes is confident the team is well prepared for their Kiwi opponents due to the variety of opposition the team has already faced this season.

“The beauty of it is that if you combine the preparation we had to do to Fiji where you have to expect the unexpected, versus the Rebels who aren’t necessarily the most structured team in the competition but certainty have a really distinct style of footy and throw that in with the Brumbies who are like very well-oiled machine,” he added.

“I think for the Hurricanes, [it] probably is a bit of a combination. They’ve got some really good kicking backs, and their shape throughout the forwards at times can be a little bit experimental and on the fly, and I think we’re well prepared for that”.

The Waratahs will kick off Round Four against the Hurricanes this Friday 17 March at Sky Stadium in Wellington.