PRETORIA: Wallabies coach Robbie Deans admitted he had never witnessed a more bizarre Test after his team suffered a succession of major injuries that made it near impossible to stop the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld yesterday.
The Springboks were conclusive victors after dominating territory all game, enabling them to score five tries to one, with their imaginative winger Bryan Habana finishing with a hat-trick. So dominant in attack were the Springboks they had two other tries disallowed.
While the Springboks wanted victory more than the Wallabies, the visitors had little chance of a revival when they kept losing crucial performers - fullback Berrick Barnes (punctured lung), centre Adam Ashley-Cooper (concussion), No.8 Radike Samo (shoulder), winger Digby Ioane (kneecap) and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau (shoulder).
This meant the Wallabies sometimes had only 12 fit players running around, and in the end finished the game with just 14 - after not being allowed to replace Polota-Nau with Saia Fainga'a, as they had already made seven substitutions. Halfback Nick Phipps ended up on the wing.
After the game, the Wallabies team management was unsure if it would have enough fit bodies to fill the ranks next Saturday night when they play Argentina in Rosario. With well over 20 players unavailable through injury, replacements from home will be required to confront the Pumas, but there are major obstacles.
Barnes and Ashley-Cooper will remain in South Africa until they are able to fly back to Australia. The Wallabies have already called up Luke Morahan (Queensland Reds) and Caderyn Neville (Melbourne Rebels) to travel to Argentina.
''We will have to bring players across from Australia, and that's going to be very challenging, because we've delved so deep into our resources that we may need players who don't have visas organised,'' Deans said. ''And organising a visa for Argentina is not straightforward.''
While the Springboks guaranteed victory in the first half by holding on to the ball for long stretches and being effective at the breakdown, the Wallabies were shackled during the second half as they kept having to replace injured key players.
The sinbinning of replacement prop James Slipper in the 53rd minute did not help, with the Springboks scoring two tries while he was off the field. However, just as demanding was that Deans had to keep making positional changes.
''It was unreal,'' the coach said. ''I thought the courage shown to hold them near the end to that score was remarkable.
''They scored once when Radike was down and we weren't allowed to put a replacement on in time. When Nick Phipps saved that try near the end, we had only 12 blokes upright at the time.
''There was some remarkable pride shown, and the circumstances were unprecedented. I've never seen anything like it. It was bizarre.
''We had halfbacks on the wing, were down to 14 men, and the carnage that we had in terms of injuries was unprecedented. But, that said, the score goes in the book. No one records the circumstance.''
Considering how dominant the Springboks were, Deans had every right to be dejected. But there were some bright spots, in particular openside breakaway Michael Hooper's tireless effort, particularly in defence, while the new five-eighth Kurtley Beale tried to revive a flagging beast.
''I thought Kurtley's effort was great,'' Deans said. ''He squared up the attack and gave it a real crack. He worked hard and kicked well.''
Then off to the Johannesburg airport, with Buenos Aires beckoning. While the challenge of winning their first Test at Loftus Versfeld was enormous - so too is trying to beat the Pumas on their home soil.
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer, whose side drew 16-all against Argentina in Mendoza, reminded the Wallabies how difficult the coming week will be.
''Argentina are a very difficult side to play against, especially at home, where you confront a really hostile crowd,'' he said.
''They are going to be really tough, especially when you have to travel halfway around the world to Argentina after playing in a tough Test like this one.''