Hands up if you had Mark Nawaqanitawase and Lachlan Lonergan as the men to inspire the Wallabies to a famous away win over Wales at the start of the calendar year?
It has been that kind of season for Australian rugby – thrilling, terrible and tumultuous at various times as Dave Rennie’s rocky road to the Rugby World Cup continues.
But what is clear is coach Rennie still has the dressing room as a makeshift, injury depleted side roared back from a 21 point deficit to stun Wales 39-34 in their season-ending Test in Cardiff.
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Lonergan scores match-winning try
Breakout winger Nawaqanitawase scored two tries while back-up hooker Lonergan grabbed the match-winning score and then the decisive turnover to break the hosts.
“I don’t think he’s ever lost the dressing room,” Wallabies legend Tim Horan said of Rennie on Stan Sport’s coverage.
“James Slipper this week talked about the belief they have. There’s been a lot of injuries, which hasn’t helped. That’s a great performance. That last 20 minutes was some of the best Wallabies performance we’ve seen this year.”
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Nawaqanitawase burns Welsh defence
Nawaqanitawase was only a fringe Super Rugby player with the Waratahs at the start of the year but he has finished it as one of the world’s hottest wingers.
The 22-year-old with Fijian heritage scored two tries at the Principality Stadium and was a constant threat for the Welsh defence.
His mix of size, speed, athleticism and aerial ability gives the Wallabies a real point of difference and adds to the wing stocks that include Marika Koroibete, Andrew Kellaway and Tom Wright.
“The big thing now for Mark is that he feels he belongs in a gold jersey,” Horan said.
“And that usually takes probably 5-10 Test matches – not only two or three. But the big challenge for Mark now is to go back to the Waratahs after this tour.
“Take what he’s learned from this tour and actually step up again because that second year syndrome is very difficult. When you’re in a gold jersey players start to look at video, start to analyse. But it’s a good opportunity for you to grow.”
Meanwhile, Lonergan was an unlikely match-winner as he scored his first Test try to give the Wallabies the lead in the 78th minute – and then won the decisive breakdown turnover as the home side came knocking.
“Pretty stoked. I was just chilling on the wing and I was lucky enough to walk around and get that drop,” the deadpan Lonergan said on Stan Sport.
“Our captain (James Slipper) went down with that head knock so as a team we said we need to do it for him, do it for our coaches, do it for Australia and we’re lucky enough to get that result.”
Lonergan then dropped another gem when asked by Drew Mitchell what the plan was post-match.
“You know exactly what’s gonna happen.”
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