Australia 21-23 British & Irish Lions, Brisbane
Robbie Deans proud of brave Wallabies
June 22, 2013
The moment the Wallabies' hopes finally died © Getty Images
Robbie Deans was left to lament an horrendous injury toll to add to a poor place-kicking display as his Wallabies lost the opening Tom Richards Cup Test against the British & Irish Lions by two points at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday.
Kurtley Beale, a replacement for Berrick Barnes, one of four Wallabies backs taken from the field injured, missed two penalties in the final 10 minutes, the second on the siren because he slipped in the act of kicking. The ball failed to reach the posts and the Lions escaped with victory while the Wallabies counted the physical cost of defeat.
Christian Lealiifano, who was to have been the first-choice goal-kicker, was taken from the pitch on stretcher after a tackle gone wrong on Jonathan Davies in the first minute of his Test debut. The Brumbies centre was followed to the sidelines by fullback Berrick Barnes (jaw), replacement centre Pat McCabe (neck), winger Digby Ioane (shoulder and elbow) and centre Adam Ashley-Cooper (shoulder), and the stunning injury count saw replacement half-back Nick Phipps playing on the wing and flanker Michael Hooper play the final 33 minutes in the centres.
The injuries to McCabe and Barnes could even be career-ending given their previous records with similar issues. McCabe fractured his neck last November last year, while Barnes, who suffered a heavy collision with Israel Folau in attempting to collect a kick from Jonny Sexton, has endured a succession of serious head knocks.
Deans was unable to shed light on the status of his injured quartet, but a team spokesman confirmed that Lealiifano and Barnes were both in good spirits in the dressing room after the game. The extent of McCabe's injury will be known after scans on Sunday, while Ashley-Cooper will also be assessed. "I'm not in a position to be able provide that feedback yet ... but obviously that's going to be an important part of this week, finding out what the status is and going from there," Deans said. "It would appear that there will be a need for some change, I haven't had the feedback yet but let's hope it's not as grave as it appeared in the first instance."
Lions coach Warren Gatland suggested tongue-in-cheek that the Wallabies' injury toll could open the door for out-of-favour playmaker Quade Cooper to return. Cooper, who labelled the Wallabies camp a toxic environment last season, is not a member of Deans' 31-man squad. "They've got enough strength and depth in terms of being able to call on players like [Anthony] Faingaa or [Ben] Tapuai, or Quade Cooper might come back into the reckoning," Gatland said.
Deans said he could not have asked for anything more from his players.
"To put themselves in a position to win in such trying circumstances was a courageous performance that stacks up beside any," Deans said of his battered Wallabies, aware that his place-kickers left 14 points on the pitch in Lealiifano's absence. Leigh Halfpenny, by contrast, landed five of his six goal kicks. James O'Connor missed three from five attampts before Beale assumed the responsibility. "We still came second. We need to go to Melbourne [for the second Test] and win. There will have to be changes for injuries but I can assure you Israel will have a jersey."
Asked if the better team lost, Deans quipped: "You can draw your own conclusions, we lost. That was an epic struggle out there tonight. It was reasonably slippery under foot so that probably didn't help the pace of the game but it was an epic contest and either side could have won."
Robbie Deans was proud of his players' efforts%]
When asked what aspects of the Wallabies game must improve in order to reverse the result in Melbourne, Deans focused on the need to control the ball better. "[We need] a bit longer in possession, we didn't have much ball at all there in the first half ... but we showed when we did have possession how effective we could be, so that would aid our cause," he said.
Wallabies captain James Horwill consoled Beale after full-time, comforting the player who has only just returned to the game after seeking rehabilitation and counselling for alcohol problems: "KB did as well as he could," Horwill said. "I told him not to worry about it ... everyone in the team still loves him."
The Wallabies suffered an horrendous injury toll (video available only in Australia)
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand