HARRY Johnson-Holmes never expected it to be easy. Nothing is against the beast known as "Big Karl".
The flame-haired Newcastle front-rower was given a harsh introduction to life as a tighthead prop in the Waratahs' 32-12 defeat to the Auckland Blues in the wet at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
The match was the first in Super Rugby for Johnson-Holmes since switching sides of the scrum from loosehead to tighthead. He missed the season-opening loss to the Crusaders due to a virus.
On Saturday, he was opposite All Blacks man mountain Karl Tu'inukuafe, who had 24 kilograms and 12 Test caps on the Wanderers junior.
"It was always going to be a big challenge," Johnson-Holmes said. "He is an All Black and a very good player. It is a hard gig, tighthead. I said from the get go with the switch to tighthead that there will be learning curves. It was a technique thing. We were allowing them to set up how they wanted to on the bind, which was a slight angle inwards towards our hooker. We allowed them to manipulate the angle in which they wanted to go.
"There were times when we had a really solid platform and were going forward. But when you have blokes the size of them and you allow them to do what they want to do, it makes it very hard.
"I had the same tough lessons as a loosehead when I first started in Super Rugby. Every week you are coming up against world-class players, blokes who have been plying their trade for years and years. I put my hand up and say at times I needed to adjust what I was doing and be able to set more of a solid platform."
Apart from a few struggles at the scrum, Johnson-Holmes was strong around the paddock.
He won a penalty at the breakdown in the opening minute, got through a power of work in tight, popped a return pass for halfback Jake Gordon to set up a try for Lalakai Foketi and came within a 30 centimetres from a five-pointer himself.
"I was happy to get on the ball and get through a lot of work," he said. "Scrumagging is going to be the key thing I work on for the season. It won't be easy but put my hand up for it."
Waratahs coach Rob Penney said Johnson-Holmes, like many of his new look side, "needs time to settle".
"That is the reality," Penney said. "We have to show faith. He will get there. He was up against some very good looseheads and, at times, we scrummaged really well. We just have to get more consistency. He will be better for the experience."
Blues coach Leon MacDonald praised the efforts of his pack and said they planned to test Johnson-Holmes in his new role.
"He was scrumagging against one of the most destructive scrummagers in the game in Karl," MacDonald said. "He is not the first person to have trouble doing that. We obviously saw an opportunity there and given the conditions, the scrum was a critical part of our game."