Australia are battered and bruised after their Rugby Championship loss to South Africa, which coach Robbie Deans has described as one of the most bizarre games he’s been involved in.
Five Wallabies were forced from Loftus Versfeld with serious injuries while the side played out the 31-8 loss with only 14 men after a mix-up with officials who said they’d exhausted their seven substitutions.
Fullback Berrick Barnes suffered a punctured lung while Adam Ashley-Cooper was also taken to hospital after he was knocked unconscious while making a try-saving tackle.
Ashley-Cooper will return home to Sydney, while Barnes will also miss Australia’s final Championship Test against Argentina in Rosario next weekend.
There is also doubt over winger Digby Ioane (knee cap), back-rower Radike Samo (shoulder) and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau (neck/shoulder).
The Wallabies will send reinforcements to Argentina, with Melbourne Rebels lock Cadeyrn Neville and Queensland back Luke Morahan joining the group.
The Springboks deserve credit after ending their five-game losing streak against the Wallabies, with veteran winger Bryan Habana scoring a hat-trick in the five-try haul.
Their smothering defence and ferocity at the breakdown set up the win, with the Australians, who hoped to post their first ever victory at Loftus, getting little quality ball or position to attack.
But it was difficult to read much into the game because of the “carnage”, as Deans called it.
“It was such a bizarre circumstance but that’s the way it was,” Deans said.
“It was unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like it and hopefully we never do again.”
The coach was left fuming by the substitution confusion, which meant they were down a man for the final eight minutes, their last two scrums were uncontested and prop Benn Robinson threw the ball at a lineout.
Deans said the fourth referee gave them the green light to replace the injured Polota-Nau and they called him off the ground but, before Saia Faingaa could go on, they were told he couldn’t.
“We attempted to return him (Polota-Nau) to the ground and they said no; he’s off for injury, so that was a source of frustration.”
Australia trailed 14-3 at halftime but the margin could have been much larger but for the Springboks missing two penalty kicks and having two tries disallowed.
Losing Barnes put a lot of pressure on five-eighth Kurtley Beale, who did well in the trying circumstances, and they were so down in numbers in the second 40 minutes that halfback Nick Phipps had to play on the wing.
Deans lauded his side’s courage to continue to put their bodies on the line despite the lopsided scoreline and their decimated troops.
“I thought the courage at the end to hold them to that score was remarkable,” he said.
South African coach Heyneke Meyer was delighted his team could add to their sole Rugby Championship victory in such convincing fashion, although rued being caught just short of the line on three occasions.
“I thought some individuals were great but you win games by defence and our defence was awesome,” Meyer said.
“I thought our lineout and scrummaging was superb. Our discipline all over was superb.
“But we want to be the best team in the world and the best team in the world should finish those opportunities.”