Nathan makes a Sharpe exit
Nathan makes a Sharpe exitSHARE
Not only did Nathan Sharpe have to play all 80 gruelling minutes of his final Test match against Wales, but he also found himself lining up to take an injury-time touchline conversion kick.
Needless to say, the 34-year-old lock's effort fell well short of the posts, but he had already guided his Wallaby team to a nail-biting 14-12 victory thanks to Kurtley Beale's last-gasp try at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
"Yeah it was [my first ever conversion] and I'd say it's my last!" joked Sharpe, who brings a curtain down on 16 seasons of international rugby.
"Of course I'm going to miss it. It's what I've done since I can remember. I'm going to have to find some walls to run into every weekend just to get my head around things and ease my way out of things.
"The thing I'll miss the most is being part of the team environment and having a collective goal that is in a pressure cooker situation each weekend.
"As much as you love it, you hate it, it's big highs and low lows, so that'll be the most challenging thing for me."
Try-scorer Beale, who also kicked three penalties to Leigh Halfpenny's four, had only words of admiration for Sharpe.
"What better way of finishing a game for a great man as Nathan, our skipper who's retiring?" asked Beale.
Sharpe was a fringe player at last year's World Cup and a controversial omission from Australia's 22-man squad for the semi-final defeat against the All Blacks in Auckland.
But coach Robbie Deans recalled him to win his 100th Test cap against Wales in the third-place play-off, and the veteran was then summoned for the European tour after injuries to preferred boilerhouse combination Dan Vickerman and then-captain James Horwill.
"He's done a great job in that role this year," Deans said of his fourth choice captain after injuries to lock James Horwill, scrumhalf Will Genia and flank David Pocock.
"He's given this young group a great start. He's been a good source of counsel, a good source of composure and has led effectively as well."
Sharpe, who won his first Test cap against France back in 2002, lined up against Wales for a record 14th time and the narrow victory was the 70th Test win of the lock's career.
His 116 Tests will leave him as the second most capped Australian of all-time, and the sixth most capped player in the history of the game (behind ex-Wallaby George Gregan, Irish duo Brian O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara, Englishman Jason Leonard and Fabien Pelous of France).
The Wagga Wagga-born Sharpe, who has played in three World Cups and rates South Africa's Victor Matfield as his toughest rival, said he had been blessed during his career, writing off moments when he was dropped from the Wallaby squad.
Sharpe said there was no chance he could be coaxed back out of retirement to play against the touring British and Irish Lions in June next year, adding that this year-end run of Tests, barring the 33-6 blip against France, would be a boost.
"It's a great confidence thing for the team to know that you can close out a close game like that and get the result against the odds going into big series like the Lions next year," he said.
"The guys will get confidence from this."