Under the night stars in the second week of August, Jed Holloway recognised he needed to get off the grid.
Overlooked for the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign, the 31-year-old, who only two weeks earlier had run out in front of more than 80,000 at the MCG against the All Blacks, was shattered and rocked to the core.
Having featured prominently over the previous 12 months for the Wallabies, and quietly optimistic of having a busy few months ahead, the second-year Test player organised for his young family to travel back to the United States to be with his wife’s family.
Unfortunately, Holloway never got the news he wanted and had craved for years.
“To find out I didn’t make it, you’re kind of left reeling a little bit and you don’t know what to do,” Holloway told The Roar.
“I took it pretty hard.”
With his family on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Holloway needed to get away.
He got off the grid where the reception is sketchy and went down the south coast to The Farm to surf, drive and try to free his mind of the devastation of missing out on a maiden World Cup campaign.
“I borrowed one of my family friend’s swags and put it up as best as I could,” he said
“Whenever I camp, I’m used to going to my cabin in the national park, so I haven’t really done too much swag camping. I parked it down. It was a howling westerly, so the nights were pretty dark and grim. You couldn’t really get out and start a fire or anything like that.
“I was just laying in the swag with my own thoughts, so the nights were pretty early but the days were awesome. A lot of surfing, a lot of diving. It was good to reset.
“I just wanted to put myself outside my comfort zone because it’s easy to sit in your house and feel sorry for yourself, but I feel when I get out there and separate myself from things and really kind of process my emotions, it’s intense but it’s good. It’s the best thing for me.”
Holloway doesn’t blame Eddie Jones for overlooking him.
He knows he didn’t put his best foot forward, with his three performances in July coming in heavy defeats to the Springboks and All Blacks.
Indeed, the Wallabies’ kick-heavy strategy came back to haunt them in Pretoria before an inability to take their chances, a crucial injury to Allan Alaalatoa and yellow card to Taniela Tupou saw the home side blow any hope of going one-up in the Bledisloe Cup in Melbourne.
It also hampered Holloway’s ability to make an impression, which was Jones’ rationale for leaving him out.
“I don’t want to be seen like banging the table after not being selected, but I guess it [the feedback] was you need to demand the ball more,” Holloway said.
“You need to go looking for it more. That’s where it ended for me. I didn’t go looking for it enough.”
Hard though when the rushed game plan was built around doing away with structure.
“That was the goal with his [Jones’] live attack. There was no structure. No one knows what they’re doing, and if we don’t know, how are they meant to know?”
Holloway doesn’t beat around the bush regarding what his goals are for 2024.
“My goal is to prove some people wrong,” he quipped, in an obvious pointer to Jones. “That’s the best I can put it.
“I haven’t lost any drive to be the best in any way. If anything, it’s inspired me more. Having got over the emotional side of it, I’m also driven to prove people wrong.”
Holloway shapes as a key figure for the Waratahs if the Super Rugby franchise is going to make an impression in 2024.
The Waratahs’ season never quite got going in 2023 and before they knew it, they were knocked out for a second straight year in the quarter-finals.
Yet, the early exit felt worse than in 2022.
“To be honest with you, I think we crumbled under expectation a little bit, myself in particular,” he said.
“Coming off a great year with the Wallabies, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I probably had a pretty big drop off. I didn’t drop off completely, but I didn’t have as good a year as I had before.
“We just couldn’t gather any momentum. We had really good patches like the Brumbies game down in the ACT, the Drua games, but we couldn’t nail it and were just inconsistent and probably crumbled under a bit of expectation.”
But the versatile forward believes after a period of soul-searching, the squad is in a much stronger position heading into 2024.
“It’s been different in terms of the dynamic in there and it’s been refreshing,” he said.
“On the back of last year where we replicated our previous season record, the seasons were almost identical, but in anyone’s eyes it was probably a letdown.
“The coaches have been awesome on taking that on board and the players as well around what we need to do better, and there’s just very clear goals of what we want to achieve this pre-season.
“DC’s done a great job of letting the assistants really take ownership of their areas and [assistant coach] Jason Gilmore has been unreal in leading the defence but also driving the energy around the squad and providing a bit of a hard edge.”
Believe it or not, too, Holloway says the Waratahs are intent to make a difference on the field as they are off it.
After visiting the Children’s Hospital last week, the Waratahs held a session with more than 100 junior kids earlier this week too.
“Down in the Gong [Wollongong], me being from there and being close to the [Woonona] Shamrocks, they feel a little bit neglected in a way,” Holloway said.
“Not by anyone’s fault, but they’re kind of stuck in between Brumbies and Waratahs territory.
“But the juniors are strong. We had 100-150 kids turn up to just come and watch us train and we got to kick the ball around with them and do some drills and stuff like that and they loved it.
“This young squad, who haven’t really been exposed to that, they did an unreal job and loved it.
“Even the other day, I took a few of the boys with the Starlight [Foundation]to the hospital. With COVID ongoing in the hospitals they’re still quite cautious, I could only take six and I had to consistently turn boys down because they were excited to go in there to the children’s hospital.
“The boys are willing to change the narrative. We’re all feeling, not the pressure, but the sadness of everything over the last 12 months and how the game’s been going.
“We’re really inspired to change that narrative and make sure we’re doing a lot of good in the game. We want to try to rebuild that the right way as opposed to just saying we’re going to do it and it never really gets done.”