Christian Lealiifano’s suspected broken ankle took all the gloss off the Brumbies’ impressive 23-6 win over the Waratahs in Canberra last night.
And gave Wallaby coach Robbie Deans an additional headache as to who will wear the number 10 jersey against Scotland and Wales.
The jersey is a poisoned chalice with Quade Cooper, James O’Connor, and now Lealiifano all out of the frame on the injured list.
It was a cruel blow for the 24-year-old Auckland-born Lealiifano, especially as the accident happened well after the final hooter had sounded, with the Brumbies home and hosed.
It was a meaningless time to still be playing.
That’s where Lady Luck played her cards, and she deserted Christian Lealiifano.
So who does Deans turn to now? Kurtley Beale or Ben Lucas?
Beale was brilliant against the Bulls on Friday night in his first hit-out of the season at 10. In a normal world Deans would far prefer to have Beale at 15, but his world has been turned upside down with injuries to key players.
Once considered an outside possibility, Lucas can force his way into contention with an outstanding game against the Crusaders later today in Christchurch. That’s a big ask, but that’s what it will take to catch Deans’ attention.
This Christchurch clash has taken on a new significance now the Brumbies have opened up a 10-point lead over the Reds on top of the Australian Conference. If the Reds lose, with the Brumbies having a bye next week for an assured four points, it will be all over red rover for the defending champions.
Unless something dramatic happens over the final six rounds, the Brumbies deserve to top the local table and have a crack at the title.
Last night they were all poise, never flustered. When centre Andrew Smith scored in the 45th minute, it was after a patient 15-phase assault on the Waratahs’ line – and inevitable.
This new-look Brumbies lineup under South African World Cup-winning coach Jake White has been a revelation. The same can’t be said about Waratahs coach Michael Foley.
The Waratahs enjoyed the bulk of possession last night (58%) but didn’t know how to use it, which translated to having the minor percentage of territory with 39. The Waratahs also won the rucks and mauls 128-71, ran 848 metres to 431, and missed 12 tackles to 28.
The only stat the Waratahs were behind the Brumbies were the turnovers 21-14.
On those figures how on earth did they lose?
Foley has a major problem getting his charges to cope with the simple rugby basics of passing and support play. Many of the passes are too high or behind the receiver, destroying momentum. That’s kindergarten quality.
Last night in the first half, Kane Douglas, Tatafa Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu, and the skipper Benn Robinson all made clean breaks, try on, but either the pass went to ground, or the support went missing.
Basic errors and opportunities wasted.
Not so with the Brumbies, they are playing positive entertaining rugby and the fans are voting with their feet. Last night at Canberra Stadium a vocal 19,112 turned up, near capacity.
The Brumbies deserve it.