Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Walking Wallabies wanted

Mayday call goes out as Australia search for replacements after 23-21 defeat by Lions.

Christian Leali'ifano was the first of the Wallabies to be stretchered off at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday. Photo / AP
Christian Leali'ifano was the first of the Wallabies to be stretchered off at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday. Photo / AP

It's Pin the Jersey on the Wallaby - or backline bingo - as they search for some fit players, fortune and a result to keep the Lions series alive.

The mayday went out for warrior loose forward George Smith, rookie fullback Jesse Mogg and midfield back Ben Tapuai to join the Wallabies after the escalating damage toll at Suncorp Stadium.

Smith has recovered from a knee injury and, if fit and chosen for the second test on Saturday in Melbourne, the 32-year-old will bring more savvy about the game and ruck management for the Wallabies.

He had played 110 tests when he quit test rugby in 2009 but had lost none of his condition, skills and instincts when he answered a call to help the Brumbies after they lost Wallaby skipper David Pocock.

Smith's form was so strong his Japanese club agreed he could stay longer in Australia to be part of the Lions series.

Fanciful pleas for Quade Cooper to be restored to the squad went unheeded while the Wallabies clogged x-ray clinics and the judiciary in Melbourne as the aftermath of their opening test defeat bit deeply.

Five backs went off for a variety of scans and evaluations in the wake of their 23-21 loss in Brisbane while captain James Horwill had to answer a trampling charge.

His defence team may need some creative explanations after video footage showed Horwill scraping Lions lock Alun Wyn-Jones down the side of his face after just three minutes of the test.

The Wallabies have three fit starting backs left from the test with Christian Leali'ifano (head), Adam Ashley-Cooper (shoulder), Digby Ioane (shoulder), Berrick Barnes (jaw) all damaged and replacement midfield back Pat McCabe stretchered off with a neck injury.

The Lions got a further boost from their opening win with news that Manu Tuilagi is fit to play the Rebels tomorrow, wing Tommy Bowe is available again after fracturing his hand and Jamie Roberts might be ready for Melbourne.

Anthony Fainga'a, Tapuai and Rob Horne are backup for the Wallabies' midfield problems as the expected stirrings continued from Lions coach Warren Gatland and the Queensland media about the merits of a Cooper recall.

If the injury list clears, Wallaby coach Robbie Deans will still battle with his second test backline selections. He settled on James O'Connor as his premier five-eighths for Suncorp but got little added value.

An option is to push Kurtley Beale up into the role, but that reaction will create further hostility about Deans' original selection preference, while Beale looks better with more space in the back field.

He will do well to change his boots too, with Gatland quick to criticise and thank Beale in the same sentence for slipping over in the last fateful penalty kick when he wore moulded soles instead of long sprigs on the soft Suncorp surface.

Gatland also had a strong shot at referee Chris Pollock for his rulings, saying he had "crucified" the Lions with decisions at the breakdown.

- NZ Herald

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