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Homecoming to Test rugby - The Lenac family's incredible story.

Jordan Lenac

In 1948, seven-year-old Ferruccio Lenac followed his parents down winding moonlit alleyways in the Italian seaside city of Fiume to escape post-war political unrest.

The midnight dash from the city became an arduous 80km trek through the Yugoslavian countryside to the safety of Trieste and ultimately, passage to a new life in Australia. 

Seventy years later Ferruccio, now more commonly known as Tony, returned to walk those streetsaccompanied by waves of nostalgia.

Once again, each step carried the promise of opportunity  - this time for grandson Jordan Lenac.

Pending final approval from World Rugby, on March 16 Jordan will pull on a crimson and white jersey that links him to roots he never knew existed.

He’ll stand arm in arm with teammates just met to belt out an anthem hastily learned, ahead of his Test rugby debut for Croatia against Lithuania.

The following week the Croatians take on Switzerland with both games critical to the Croatians’ European ranking.

The Bond University Doctor of Physiotherapy student represented Australia at schoolboy level and never dreamed he would one day play a Test match for Croatia.

In fact, he had no idea of his Croatian heritage until 2018.

After graduating from The Southport School Lenac played some club rugby for UQ in Brisbane while completing an undergraduate degree before securing a professional contract to play for the Glasgow Warriors in the European league.

To make life easier in Europe he decided to seek an Italian passport and dual citizenship through Ferruccio’s heritage. And got knocked back.

The Italian city of Fiume that Ferruccio fled is now the Croatian city of Rejika and officials there had no record of the family.

“My grandfather and his family fled following World War II, it was a shut the door and leave everything behind in the middle of the night type situation,” Lenac said.

“When I was applying for an Italian passport the consulate knocked me back because Tony had to naturalise when he came to Australia and also the town he was born in in Italy is now Croatia because the borders shifted.”

So Jordan switched his focus to the Croatian Consulate where he quickly discovered more lenient citizenship requirements due to the mass displacement of people from that region during the war. All he had to do was prove Tony had been born in Rijeka.

However, with Tony’s parents long gone, no one knew exactly where he had been born.

All Tony could remember was his home was a short stroll from the town square.

Ferrucio, Jason and Jordan Lenac
Ferruccio, Jason and Jordan Lenac outside the family's old apartment in Rijeka in 2018. 

“Grandad had never been back and he took some persuading, but I eventually convinced him to come to Croatia with me and my family,” Lenac said. “We went there and basically retraced his footsteps until we worked out the house he was born in.

“It was a big couple of days, super emotional, it is the one and only time I have ever seen my granddad cry.”

From there it was a matter of applying for a birth certificate for Tony, signing a series of documents, and Jordan Lenac was granted citizenship.

The passport paved the way for a professional career in Scotland, but it wasn’t until he returned to the Gold Coast to take up the John Eales Rugby Excellence Scholarship to further his studies at Bond and play for the Bull Sharks, that he discovered another benefit.

Even if it did initially annoy granddad.

Lenac was recounting the story to a friend who mentioned that he knew the Croatian coach Anthony Posa.

“My mate called the head coach who was based in the UK and it turned out he knew of me through UK rugby circles,” he said.

“A couple of days later he called me and invited me to join the squad for this Test series and we’re just now awaiting World Rugby to approve my eligibility.

“It’s a big thing. I represented Australia at U18s level but haven’t been in any open age sides so to be able to draw on my family history to pay Test match rugby is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

“It’s crazy. When I told my granddad I was playing for Croatia I don’t think he was that happy because he still sees himself as Italian.

“But everybody understands this is a great opportunity for me.”

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