Denny Solomona admitted he experienced the best and worst times of his career as he marked his England debut in fairytale fashion with the match-winning try against Argentina.
The 23-year-old cross-code convert went from zero to hero inside half an hour as he helped England to a dramatic 38-34 win over the Pumas in the first Test in San Juan.
Solomona, one of 10 new caps who was introduced for just his 16th game in the 15-man code 10 minutes into the second half, watched helplessly as Argentina’s Jeronimo de la Fuente and Joaquin Tuculet went past him for tries that put the home side 31-23 up.
But the former Melbourne, London Broncos and Castleford player, who scored a Super League record 40 tries in 2016 before quitting the 13-man game, had the last laugh as he broke clear with his first touch of the ball and raced away for the winning score.
“It’s unreal,” Solomona said. “I think that is the best and worst debut I have had in my life!
“Credit to the boys, they dug deep for 80 minutes and we stuck to it until the last second. It was a thrilling game to be a part of and I am glad that I have made my debut, especially among the other nine people.”
England coach Eddie Jones thinks Solomona was affected by the occasion and says he must work on his defence if he is to feature in the team for the second Test in Sante Fe next Saturday.
“We will be shopping for a tackle bag and studs next week so if you see him roaming the streets you will know why,” Jones said after Saturday’s victory. “I think he was so nervous. You watch him and he misses the tackle, he gets up and he stumbles again.
“I think he was just so nervous – the big occasion got to him. But the great thing is he bounced back. He had one opportunity to carry the ball and it was a fantastic carry.”
Solomona, whose controversial move from Castleford to Sale is still going through the courts, was watched by parents Denny and Georgina, who arrived unannounced from Auckland to be among the 25,000 crowd at Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario in the shadow of the sun-kissed Andes.
“Yeah, my old man and my old lady surprised me,” he said. “I didn’t know they were coming out.”
Having had his appetite whetted for the international game, Solomona is now hoping to fight off competition from Marland Yarde and uncapped duo Nathan Earl and Harry Mallinder to win his second cap.
“In Test matches you make mistakes and it is up to you whether to go forward or dwell on it,” said Solomona, whose last match in rugby league was for Samoa last September. “I chose to not to and tried to do the best I could for the team.
“I can’t remember the try. I just remember putting the ball down and being overwhelmed with joy and pride. I made a couple of mistakes but hopefully redeemed myself. The mistakes are something to work on, I will go back and look at it during the week.
“I will go back to the drawing board and train hard. We are here to do a job and that is to win 2-0.”