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How Wallabies young gun salvaged hero-to-zero moment to save season

CARDIFF – Lachlan Lonergan feared the worst. After being the man to complete the Wallabies’ 21-point comeback, the replacement hooker thought he had blown it at the death as he was penalised mere moments later in the 80th minute.

In one of sports great hero-to-zero moments, Lonergan made up for going off his feet at the breakdown by getting on the ball, completing the turnover and then booting the ball into the Principality Stadium seats.

A stadium that seconds earlier had been rocking, as the Welsh faithful attempted to help their side deliver one final push, was silenced as the Wallabies won 39-34.

“It was in my hands, it was slipping around a bit and everyone’s just yelling my name. I had no idea what was going on. Then it slipped down on my foot and I just booted it as hard as I could,” Lonergan said. 

With that, there were wild scenes as the Wallabies celebrated like they had won the World Cup.

More introspection will occur, but should the Wallabies go on a giant-killing run at next year’s World Cup in France like they did in 2015, they could well look back at the Spring Tour that saved their season and, perhaps, their coach Dave Rennie too.

Trailing 34-13 and starring down the barrel of their fourth straight defeat on tour – and a record 10th in 2022 – the Wallabies pulled off one of the great comebacks in a match they had no right to win given their extraordinary, unprecedented injury toll. Dave Rennie estimated the Wallabies were missing 25 players.

“There’s plenty of beers getting around, a few burgers,” Lonergan said.

But what ended in delight could so easily have turned to tears after a wild few minutes saw the Wallabies nearly bottle a famous victory.

After Mark Nawaqanitawase’s quick-fire second-half double gave the Wallabies a sniff, Lonergan, who helped narrow the gap when the rolling maul he was on the end of was awarded as a penalty try, scored out wide to give the visitors the lead in the 78th minute as he found the ball out wide and had a free run to the try-line.

“It was a little lucky bounce there,” he said.

“I don’t really know what happened there. Somehow it went into my hands and it was clear space in front of me. I probably should have gone under the sticks, but I thought where I was, was good enough.”

But the Wallabies’ attempt to run down the clock by holding onto the ball looked to have backfired when Lonergan went off his feet at a ruck.

Lonergan thought he had lost the game for the Wallabies, as the Welsh crowd exploded back to life at the sound of Matthew Carley’s whistle.

“I was trying to focus on keeping my feet to paint the picture that I’m not collapsing, but I went off my feet there,” he said.

“I was honestly gutted. I thought that was it.

Lachlan Lonergan of Australia goes over to score their side's fourth try during the Autumn International match between Wales and Australia at Principality Stadium on November 26, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Lachlan Lonergan of Australia goes over to score their side’s winning try. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

“They kicked out, we almost got the lineout steal, but then we went a couple of phases and somehow we got ourselves out of it.”

Yet Lonergan more than made up for it by pouncing on some daylight at the ruck and winning a clear turnover.

“It was just lucky,” Lonergan humbly said.

“If you look at all the breakdowns there we had someone over there trying to get it. I was the lucky one to get it.

“It’s awesome to be able to do that, but there were 14 other blokes on the field that would have done the exact same thing.”

Yet in a game of centimetres and split seconds, Lonergan bet big and it paid off in spades.

“You can give away a penalty but at that point of the game, you’re doing everything you can try and get that ball back,” he added.

“There was a little separation there and I thought that was a good opportunity and luckily enough it was.”

The moment was something to celebrate for the next generation of Wallabies, with a number of the stars from their runner-up finish at the 2019 under-20s World Cup final, including Nawaqanitawase, Ben Donaldson, Noah Lolesio, Fraser McReight and Nick Frost, playing pivotal roles in the five-point victory.

“I think that we just love playing for each other,” Lonergan said.

“We’re all good mates. I love playing with them, and we just feed off that energy.”

Lonergan said the Wallabies had taken plenty of belief out of the finish to the first-half, where the visitors took the momentum after the Welsh failed to extend their 20-13 half-time lead after being held up over the try-line following repeated penalties.

“So, obviously, massive shift just before half-time, stopped that try, I think that’s the reason why we won,” Lonergan said.

“We got a bit of confidence going into that second half.

“In the sheds, Allan spoke and he was just telling us, ‘boys, we’ve got 40 minutes left of the whole year. Whatever you’ve got, give it to us.’ I think everyone did that.”

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