Wallabies ready for character test
Gee-up … Nathan Sharpe addresses the squad last week before the South Africa match. Photo: Getty Images
ROSARIO: Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe has told his players that even though they are missing a long line of key performers they can still prove they are a team with special character by rebounding against the Pumas on Saturday night.
The Wallabies arrived in Argentina's third largest city battered by the Springbok experience, bewildered by the wave of injuries they had suffered and battling jet lag after another day of sitting on planes and buses.
Since the Pretoria Test loss, which involved five Australian players leaving the pitch and two being hospitalised with serious injuries, the Wallabies have been wondering whether they would have enough fit bodies to field a team this weekend. But gradually the news on the injury front has brightened.
While Berrick Barnes (punctured lung) and Adam Ashley-Cooper (concussion) remained in South Africa, players who were originally thought to be in serious doubt for the Argentina Test - winger Digby Ioane, hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and No.8 Radike Samo - are now expected to be available.
Forwards Sitaleki Timani and Scott Higginbotham, who withdrew during the warm-up in Pretoria due to back concerns, will also return.
The two most pressing spots to fill are fullback, with Mike Harris, Pat McCabe and Dom Shipperley the main contenders, and one centre spot, where Anthony Fainga'a and Ben Tapuai are in contention.
Nonetheless the Wallabies will be unable to have a proper week's preparation for a Test the Argentinians believe will be the moment they secure their first win in the Rugby Championship. As so many players are still recovering, the Wallabies training will have to be light.
So to get the players in the right frame of mind, senior Wallabies have been stressing the point that this is an international where they can prove they can overcome anything.
Sharpe said in the dressing rooms after the South Africa defeat that travelling to Argentina in trying circumstances was a chance to show the true heart and soul of this team.
''I told them that character is something which is eternal,'' he said. ''Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but character underpins everything, and so now we have a good opportunity this week by coming to Rosario and showing what we are really made of. So much revolves around how you respond to adversity.''
Coach Robbie Deans has no doubts the players would have taken to Sharpe's post-match address, because at Loftus Versfeld they had already shown they were not shirkers.
''That character was evident during the Springbok Test,'' he said yesterday. ''It got to a point with the to-ing and fro-ing of yellow cards and injured blokes who weren't allowed to be replaced that it would have been easy for the group to just roll over. But they didn't. So they displayed that character … and that's going to be important this weekend.
''The Pretoria Test was unique. For large parts of the game, we were playing with anything from 12 to 14 men. I've never encountered that before. To be frank, the way the boys hung in there was quite remarkable.''
Sharpe said ''it got to a point where the Test became ridiculous''.
''We played 30 minutes with 14 blokes, with the last few minutes something I'd never experienced before,'' Sharpe said. ''But it was also frustrating because we weren't accurate enough in our breakdown work against the Springboks, which didn't allow us to play. Ironically we finished up pretty strong in that area, playing reasonable football with less blokes, and guys out of position.
''But it's going to be important this weekend because the Argentinians are hard on the ball, if not harder [than the Springboks].''
As important was an improvement at scrum and lineout time.
''We compounded our problems through some of our set-piece work as well,'' Deans said. ''We didn't really provide a good launching platform, which then gave them access to the breakdown, and from there is was difficult … it will be similar this week. We will have to be spot-on with our set-piece to give ourselves our best chance.''
Sharpe agreed: ''They got momentum off their set-piece every single time … they caught us behind the advantage line sometimes.''