Not that Saturday’s outing at Principality Stadium was plain sailing, by any means: within a minute of the referee’s whistle blowing, an injury to Leigh Halfpenny on the day of his 100th Test required Holmes shifting from wing to fullback.
“You’re always after the impeccable game,” he admits. Despite a record points win against the Canadians, in which he was also instrumental in the build-up to other tries, he is highly self-critical. “I would have wanted to be much sharper, but perhaps in hindsight that’s expecting too much in the first game of the campaign.”
The game against Canada was Holmes’s sixth for Wales, and like the hackneyed ‘waiting for a bus’ phrase, the one in which he ended up scoring his first and second tries. That impressive strike rate for region and country this year is no fluke. “The system we play with Wales means the wingers will end up getting the ball more,” says the 28-year-old, “but personally, I’ve spent the last five to six months with the Dragons trying to get involved more frequently, not just hanging out on the wing.”
In the build-up to Wales’ summer opener in Cardiff, Holmes had sung the praises of his young Dragons teammate, second row Ben Carter, tipping him for great things: “Carts is the loveliest guy in the world, but he’s hungry to get better and better. He isn’t overly confident or cocky, but he puts more effort in than anyone else and is class.” Lo and behold, the 20-year-old from Caldicot was named Man of the Match on his debut after a tireless performance against the physical Canadians.
In time-honoured fashion, the team was able to observe the five first caps after the final whistle – a group which also included Taine Basham (Dragons), Tom Rogers (Scarlets), Ben Thomas (Cardiff) and Gareth Thomas (Ospreys). “It was a load more new caps than you’d normally have in a game,” says Holmes. “We managed to get out on the field after and celebrate together and listen to all the new boys’ songs, which went well for all of them.”
Bigger tests are to come for Wales this summer, with back-to-back meetings with Argentina over the next fortnight. Away from the relentless endeavour to impress the selectors, Holmes is challenging himself on another front. “I’m doing a Master’s in building surveying, and my dissertation is due on the last day of this camp,” he explains. “We’ve all got our own bedroom, so that helps with concentration! It is mentally stimulating, and I’ve got an eye on doing some practical work experience once this is all done.”
Until then, Holmes wants to continue being part of what head coach Wayne Pivac is building with Wales, rather than just surveying it.