Australian rugby was rewarded for its strong developmental pathway systems in 2020, with many of the 10 players who made their Wallabies debuts last year having donned the green and gold at junior levels.
One of those debutants was Waratahs enforcer Lachlan Swinton who became Wallaby 938 when he started at Blindside flanker in the fourth Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane. The last time he’d represented his country before then was in 2017 when he was selected for the Junior Wallabies.
Swinton also benefited from time playing in the National Rugby Championship where he played for Sydney and in the Shute Shield with Sydney University.
But after years of hard work and dedication, Swinton’s test debut was short-lived and had a sour end.
The flanker created unwanted history by becoming the first Wallaby ever to be shown a red card on test debut. But the 24-year-old is looking to “put all that behind me” as he looks to get better, and channel the hunger he has to return to the Wallabies fold.
“Like they say, once you get a taste of test footy you really want it and that’s so true. I got a taste of it and there couldn’t be anything I want more than to do it again,” Swinton told RugbyPass.
“Unfortunately I got it taken away from me the last two games but it’s just really put new fuel in the fire for 2021.”
There is fierce competition for the Wallaby number six jersey, with fellow debutant Harry Wilson having had the first crack in the opening test of the year, before Waratah Ned Hanigan occupied the jersey for the next two tests.
But in the leadup to the fourth and final test against the All Blacks, Swinton realised his dream as he was named to make his debut. As you can see in the video below, it clearly meant to lot.
? A childhood dream realised for three future #Wallabies.
— Wallabies (@wallabies) November 6, 2020
“I’m still smiling about it now, it was so hectic. I actually didn’t get told at all by any of the coaches that I was in,” Swinton told RugbyPass.
“They do a slide show for each game when they’re announcing the team, and they have an action shot of each bloke playing but when there’s a debutant there’s a white background behind it because they haven’t played yet.
“I could see around my position that there was a white background and I was like one of the only backrowers who hadn’t played yet so I was like, ‘fu** we could be on here.’”
After signing the national anthem and facing the Haka, the Wallabies ran out to an early lead, with Tom Wright scoring with his first touch in test match rugby, only a couple of minutes in. While Rieko Ioane responded soon after for the visitors, the match changed drastically when All Black Ofa Tu’ungafasi was shown a red card. The prop was sent from the field for a high shot on Wright.
But with the scores level at 8-all, just before the half-time break, Swinton was sent off for a nearly identical incident on Sam Whitelock. It was just the fifth time ever that a Wallaby had been red carded in test match, joining David Codey, Drew Mitchell, Tevita Kuridrani and Sekope Kepu.
“It was off a kick-off so [I was] trying to judge where a player is going to be, and he [Sam Whitelock] kind of slipped out from behind two people.
“It wasn’t like I had time to plan what I was going to do and I was flying in pretty quick, so he kind of popped out and I was like, ‘I’m going to put everything I’ve got into this’ and it just happened to be that I was a bit higher than I should’ve been.
With the kick-off of Super Rugby broadening on the horizon, a panel of RugbyPass writers have ranked the ten best flankers in New Zealand and Australia.https://t.co/8jbc8fUK9c
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 16, 2021
“Just off the circumstances of Ofa [Tu’ungafasi] [with] the first red card, I kind of got the gist that it wasn’t going to be looking good for me. It’s just a shame. I’m still feeling the pinch of that [the red card], I still miss round one so I’m going to try and put all that behind me and get better.”
The Wallabies actually went down to 13 men just before half-time with winger Marika Koroibete shown a yellow card.
But the Wallabies hung on, rallying when they needed, and winning the final Bledisloe Cup test 24-22.
“Initially it was a bit bittersweet but you don’t want to be a lull in the team and be selfish and like, ‘oh it’s about me, I got red carded.’ But I was stoked for the lads, I thought we played great. I was stoked to get the monkey off my back and represent my country and fulfil my goal, that’s the way I was looking at it.
“Initially I was proud of actually performing and playing for my country but I put it [the red card] in the back of my head and get better from it.”
Swinton made seven of his nine tackle attempts in his 34 minutes on the park, with 43% of those made tackles being dominant.
“I definitely felt like I belonged out there. I had however many months in the squad training, getting used to all the pretty detailed structures. So I had a bit of a time to see how things work and see how I fit into the piece, and when I finally got the opportunity I thought that I fit in pretty well which was one of the goals of mine to seamlessly fill in and give what I’ve got to offer.
“It was just great that I could do it against a world-class team like the All Blacks and some players who I love watching myself like [Ardie] Savea and stuff like that, and great men as well. He came and spoke to me and just said well done and stuff like that and that meant a lot to me…He didn’t have to do that, he just gave me a little nod and was like ‘well done bro, congrats.'”
While his first taste of test match rugby was short-lived, it’s clear that Swinton is a player for the future. As he begins his path back to Wallaby gold, there will be plenty of expectation on him to back up last year’s campaign with the Waratahs, in Super Rugby AU this year.
“Every new year brings new possibilities and beginnings. We’ve got a good crew, been training with them for a while now so just keen to get in there and rip in with the boys. As classic as that sounds, that’s how it is.”
The Waratahs begin their Super Rugby AU campaign in Brisbane on Friday when they take on the Queensland Reds.
Swinton has not been named to play in this match though as he’s serving the final match of his suspension.
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