Maro Itoje was screaming, waving his arms, setting free the craziest bug eyes in world rugby. His lock partner Jonny Hill was performing a similar role; roaring, guttural, a giant extra from Braveheart. It was Dave Porecki’s first lineout throw in Test rugby. It was England’s welcome to their house.

Porecki lined up the ball in two hands. Looked down the ever-narrowing tunnel. The England forwards were all movement, encroachment, noise. Their eyes went wider and crazier again. Their arm waving became more frenetic. They became so loud that referee James Doleman stepped in like a schoolteacher.

“If you do that again, I’ll free-kick you,” Doleman admonished. “Stop calling out.”

They did. And into the quiet tunnel Porecki tossed the Gilbert.

And it was perfect – a tidy spiral that met Darcy Swain at the zenith of his lifted leap. And Dave Porecki, Manly Marlins man and Wallaby No.952 was away.

Dave Porecki had a storming debut for Australia in their 30-28 win over England in the first Test. Pic: Getty.

At the anthem he’d stood, in the time-honoured way, between prop forwards Angus Bell and Allan Alaalatoa. He looked into the packed crowd. Couldn’t believe the crowd, the occasion, his part in it. Yet it was earlier that it truly hit Porecki that he was playing for Australia – when he walked through a crowd of half-cut punters.

“I didn’t know that at Optus Stadium you walk through a tunnel of people [in the Locker Room bar] to get onto the field,” Porecki says. “I was lucky, I was two behind ‘Hoops’ [Michael Hooper]. So I got to walk about behind the captain of my country, into the stadium, onto the field, it’s packed, the crowd going nuts, the fireworks going off … never forget it.”

Standing in the lineup between the bookends, you thought, if nothing else, Porecki looks like a Test rugby player: wide chest, tight haircut of a Marine, tough-looking three day growth. His ears are not yet given to the cauliflower. But Porecki looked like a man about to play rugby for Australia.

And then he did.

Dave Porecki vs Warringah Rats in 2014. Pic: Facebook

His first involvement was to help another Marlins man, Cadeyrn Neville, Porecki’s fellow elderly debutant at 33, win a scrum by holding up a maul.

That first scrum then became three scrums, referee Doleman issuing instructions, fomenting understanding. There was something about a “brake foot”.

Then the third scrum collapsed and it was free-kick Australia. There will be no understanding this. Later the Wallabies won a penalty with Porecki’s head popping out of the mess like a fat periscope.

Noah Lolesio caught a giant box kick but Wallabies support couldn’t secure the ball. Hill, a hair puller, an agitator, a beast with bad hair revelling as schoolyard bully, stood over Lolesio and roared in exultation. Porecki gave him a shove in the chest – pull your head in, mate.

Second lineout, something of a party play – Porecki went long over the back for Samu Kerevi. England’s impressive No.7 Tom Curry read it well and met Kerevi at the advantage line. But it was a pin-point torpedo from “Australia’s most accurate lineout thrower,” according to Stan man Sean Maloney and statistics.

Dad n Dave. Pic: Nine.com.au.

His third one was a bullet to Rob Leota at two with England encroaching, the tunnel narrowing. Living on the edge, daring the referee to call them on it. Yet Porecki says he was largely oblivious to the Poms’ pressure tactics at set piece.

“A couple of people after the game asked me about [Itoje’s tactics in the first lineout]. But it wasn’t until I actually reviewed the game that I saw what they were talking about and what he was doing. Mate, I didn’t even notice it. I must’ve been so focused on my lineout that it didn’t even come into play,” Porecki says.

“Porecki!” roared Maloney as the hooker stormed into the line five metres out, the crowd briefly seeing space that the Poms quickly filled. Then: a win for the Poms when Porecki’s chief lineout target, Swain, was red carded for retaliating to a hair pull with a head butt. Hill went off for ten minutes, satisfied, job done.

Later there was a scrum and some luck. The ball was toed back England’s way but referee ruled a re-feed, not a loosehead scrum loss. No hooker likes them in the stats.

Dave Porecki in action for Manly Marlins. Pic: Manly Marlins.

Overall, even without the bulk and dynamism of Taniela Tupou, the Wallabies’ scrum held up. The lineout, too. Porecki had 12 throws for one loss – when Hill leapt and slapped one England’s way. A respectable ratio given the hugely competitive nature of Test rugby. 

Yet such was the Wallabies’ energy, you almost forgot they were missing a forward. And that the forward was Porecki’s primary lineout target. Porecki says he found the step up to Test rugby “pretty comfortable”.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with some of the older boys [about the step up] and you just focus in on your role. At this level you’re playing with people, they’re elite players – you sort of don’t have to worry about covering for them. You just worry about your job. In some ways it makes your job as a hooker very specific. And a lot more comfortable,” Porecki says.

Porecki’s plays were influential. There was a turnover on a pinhead – the ball relieved of tousle-haired No.10 Marcus Smith. Always pleasing. There was a one-two play with Leota at the front. Twice Porecki sea-gulled on the left wing for passes from Nic White, made yards. Then White went left again – hooker as honey pot? Porecki is not Dane Coles. But his running lines are straight, his carries robust.

Manly Marlins lock Cadeyrn Neville, a former rower and rugby league man with Narraweena Hawks, also debuted for Australia. Pic: Manly Marlins.

Yet the best, most influential part of Porecki’s game was his defence. The man goes forward at contact. He leads with his barrel chest; uses bulk as ballast. He’s a stopper. He’s strong, like a wrestler. Lower centre of gravity. By the 54th minute he was the Wallabies’ leading tackle man with 16.

In the 67th minute Porecki was subbed off for Folau Fainga’a who immediately scored from the Brumbies’ party trick, the lineout which begets a rolling maul. Porecki had laid groundwork, the fresh man had iced it. The Wallabies’ replacements with 14 men worked a treat.

Another replacement, Pete Samu, scored thereafter and the Wallabies had a gutsy, even famous victory. And Porecki was buzzing for many hours after it.

“I slept pretty poorly that night,” he says. “It was awesome. In the sheds after we got through the obligatory cap presentation and the interview stuff. But what I really enjoyed was getting to speak in front of the group and to thank them for the moment they gave me.

“Afterwards at the hotel we got to enjoy a quiet drink and each other’s company. And it’s something that I’ll look back on fondly. You won’t ever forget your debut.”

This story also appears in the Wallabies 2nd Test program.