Focused: Springbok captain Jean de Villiers and Wallaby Kurtley Beale vie for the ball at Loftus Versfeld stadium yesterday (AEST time). Photo: AP
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 Stadium yesterday.
The Springboks were conclusive victors after scoring five tries to one, with their imaginative winger Bryan Habana finishing with a hat-trick. They also 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 - full-back 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 they 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.
Wallabies team management was unsure if there would be enough fit bodies to fill the ranks next Saturday night when they play Argentina in Rosario. With more than 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 home. Luke Morahan (Queensland Reds) and Cadeyrn Neville (Melbourne Rebels) have already been called up 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 onto 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 either, 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.''
There were some bright spots for Australia, 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.''
Now the depleted Wallabies have to face the Pumas on 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.''