IT was the stuff of dreams. Harry Johnson-Holmes, the bull-necked 20-year-old Newcastle prop, displaying the skills of an outside back to throw the final pass for Ned Hanigan to crash over in the corner and snatch the Waratahs a thrilling 34-27 victoey over the Stormers in Super Rugby season opener.
Johnson-Holmes then celebrated his stunning debut with fans at Allianz Stadium, many of them his mates from Sydney University where the Wanderers junior now calls home.
The former AustraIian under-20s prop replaced Wallabies loose head Tom Robertson in the 64th minute. Despite giving away weight and experience, he held his own in a scrum that was under constant pressure.
It was also a memorable debut for former Hamilton lock Nick Palmer. The man known as “Sticksy” played the final 13 minutes, was clinical at the lineout and made a couple of strong carries.
The Tahs scored four tries to three and played with 14 men for 10 minutes in the second half, when lock Rob Simmons was sin-binned for a line-out infringement.
“I felt through the whole game our team showed some real character and fight, some really excellent qualities that we've been talking about a lot,” Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said.
"Now we're stating to see it through our actions, and that's a positive and we found a way to win.
“At times we were under a lot of pressure through our scrum, but what I'm extremely proud of is the tenacious effort we showed throughout the game and to compete hard for every loose ball and that was the difference."
Faced with the Stormers' fast line speed, NSW used kicks to unlock the visitors' defence for two of their tries.
Hooker Damien Fitzpatrick and captain and flanker Michael Hooper were strong performers in the home pack, while Bernard Foley, fullback Israel Folau and centre Kurtley Beale had their moments in attack.
Johnson-Holmes and Palmer left with the squad for South Africa on Sunday ahead of the clash against the Sharks in Durban. From there they travel to Buenos Aires to tackle the Jaguares.
Simmons (quad) didn’t travel but Hanigan is expected to shift from blindside to the second-row with Palmer again on the bench.
The Sharks and Jaguares are two of the toughest scrummaging assignments in Super Rugby, but Hooper is confident the Tahs will step up.
“We've got the cattle for sure,” he said.
“We've got the guys who can back it up and do it and I've seen that at training.
“The Stormers are so strong, they're squatting us, a couple of those guys are so big in that front row. We got a bit of false security there getting forward a bit and they're go back and bring it forward and caught us off guard a bit.”