Sharpe braces for final bow
Nathan Sharpe (Gallo Images)
Cardiff - Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe has admitted that hiding his emotions was proving tough ahead of Australia's match against Wales on Saturday which will mark his retirement after 116 caps and three World Cups.
Ironically for the Wagga Wagga-born Sharpe, his final match comes against a side that also courted his services thanks to the spurious link that he qualified through his grandfather Percy, who was born in Wales during a family holiday.
Then-Wales coach Graham Henry, never shy in his efforts to attract new talent to the Prinicipality, caught whiff of the dual-qualified Sharpe and telephoned the up-and-coming uncapped lock to see where the land lay.
But the 34-year-old said it had never been a "realistic option" to turn his back on Australia.
"You can't look back in life," Sharpe said of Henry's overtures. "In reality it was just something I was looking at at the time and it was never really going to happen."
Sharpe acknowledged that he was trying desperately to keep a lid on his nerves.
"This is it," he said Friday after leading his team through their final training session at the Millennium Stadium.
"It was emotional today. It hit me this morning just as we had our jersey presentation. It's something you can never prepare for fully. I'm not one to get caught in the moment, but it was a hard session to go through today."
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 Horwill, scrum-half Will Genia and flanker 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, will be lining up against Wales for a record 14th time and a victory would represent 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).
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.
"That's just the way life rolls out and the way the cards fall. Those things happen and you just have to move on from them," Sharpe said.
"Everyone's career goes through those peaks and troughs I suppose. I don't have any issues with anything that's happened. I've been very lucky in my career."
Sharpe ruled out a move in coaching saying he had seen enough of the "pressure head coaches are put under", but adding that he expected to be involved in the game in some capacity in the future.