Battered and bruised, Wallabies must make stand in Argentina
Knocked out ... Benn Robinson consoles Adam Ashley-Cooper after he was badly concussed in a try-saving tackle. Photo: AP
Australian Rugby has endured the most dreadful of weeks. And next week could be even worse, with the Wallabies heading deeper into the horror tour from hell.
Disruption and decay are everywhere. Quade Cooper dumps on them, the Springboks smash them and now they head to Argentina with the fear that without enough fit bodies they could be decimated by the Pumas. The Wallabies management doesn't even know if it will have 22 healthy players for their final Rugby Championship Test in Rosario.
These are grim times, with the only hope being the Wallabies show some old-fashioned Australian spirit to avoid a second shellacking in a row next weekend. There's no other way out of this mess.
When you're about to confront the Springboks on the highveld everything has to be working in your favour even to be competitive. You must be at full strength, at the peak of your game with everything working in perfect harmony.
The Wallabies were well short of that yesterday. Decimated by injuries, their starting XV was nowhere near its best. And the team's form this season has, not surprisingly, also fluctuated. Too many influential players are sidelined for the Wallabies to achieve any encouraging level of consistency.
Team harmony was also put to the test when supposed allies at home took sulking to extremes by slagging off everything about the Wallabies and Australian Rugby.
If Cooper's aim in bleating was to get Australian coach Robbie Deans back for singling him out for criticism after the win against Argentina on the Gold Coast, it worked. Cooper's complaints became a distraction. Players and management argue otherwise but what Cooper said turned into an issue. It didn't destabilise the team, but was more a hindrance than a help in the team's preparation.
Under such pressure, with questions raised by one of the inner sanctum over whether the team environment was ''toxic'' or not, the Wallabies needed a lucky break.
Instead during the Pretoria Test they discovered they were jinxed. Nothing went their way. But to their credit, the maimed and hobbling Wallabies never gave up, in particular young breakaway Michael Hooper and five-eighth Kurtley Beale.
Admittedly, the Springboks were far more passionate, had greater purpose in their play, outmanoeuvred the Wallabies in most areas - especially the breakdown - and took every opportunity. But the Springboks always knew they were comfortable as soon as Wallabies players started falling one after the other during the Test.
Ever time you looked up, there seemed to be another Wallabies player in the hands of the medical staff. Even before kick-off, the Wallabies were forced to rejig their team list when Scott Higginbotham was taken off the bench because of a sore back suffered in a training mishap when Nathan Sharpe fell on top of him during a lineout drill.
Then Berrick Barnes was holding his chest, Adam Ashley-Cooper was knocked out during a courageous tackle of Springboks fullback Zane Kirchner, Radike Samo had to be helped from the field, as did Digby Ioane and Tatafu Polota-Nau. What hope did a team have of getting back into the game when the Test line-up was repeatedly rejigged, to the extent halfback Nick Phipps found himself on the wing and prop Benn Robinson became a lineout thrower?
Undoubtedly this loss will give greater voice to those in the anti-Deans brigade demanding a Wallabies coaching change.
But balance is required. This time around, Deans can actually get away with using injuries - five to key performers - as a valid excuse for a lopsided scoreline.