Woe in Wales as tourists lose out
By DARREN WALTON
SWANSEA (AAP): The Wallabies' quest for a clean sweep of their seven-match European tour was spectacularly shattered in the first match at the hands of a depleted Welsh regional line-up yesterday.
John Connolly's worst nightmare was realised on a disastrous evening at Swansea's Liberty Stadium when Australia's second-stringers suffered a humiliating 24-16 loss to an Ospreys line-up missing 13 frontline players and luckless flanker Hugh McMeniman was taken to hospital in a neck brace, his immediate playing future in doubt.
Initial x-rays and a CT scan cleared McMeniman of a broken neck but he was forced to finish his 23rd birthday in hospital ahead of an MRI scan today.
The Queenslander lasted just seven minutes before being stretchered off the field in his comeback game after seven months out following a shoulder reconstruction.
The Wallabies also lost halfback Brett Sheehan to a badly broken nose which ruled the 27-year-old out of Saturday's Test against Wales at Millennium Stadium, and probably also the Test against Italy a week later.
Connolly said the Wallabies faced some tough decisions after his inexperienced, experimental backline played like schoolboys for the most of a match that would be best archived in the horror section of the ARU's video library.
The coach conceded he'd probably have to abort plans to transform Mark Gerrard into a five-eighth and the Wallabies selectors were left wondering if the wayward-throwing Tatafu Polota-Nau's days as a hooker are numbered.
As talented as he is, Gerrard's debut at flyhalf was always going to be difficult and the 24-year-old capped an unhappy night when one of his long passes ? which, in fairness, could have been taken by centre Adam Ashley-Cooper ? was intercepted and led to the Ospreys' winning try late in the game. "He struggled. Our backline as a whole did. Every time we went wide, we couldn't hold onto the ball," Connolly said.
The coach said if not for the efforts of champion flanker George Smith, who captained his country for the first time, it would have been an even darker night for the Wallabies. His coach's generous words were no consolation to Smith, who was left gutted by his team's inept display.