The suspicion that Wallaby rugby coach Robbie Deans has crossed paths with a few black cats and carelessly strolled under half a dozen ladders gained increasing credence last night when another potentially calamitous injury wrecked his latest plans.
Just 48 hours before the Australians' final Bledisloe Cup clash of the season with New Zealand in Tokyo, Deans lost crucial midfield playmaker and vice captain Berrick Barnes to a damaged left ankle, suffered in a training ground mishap. It could get even worse for Deans – Barnes could yet be forced to fly straight home, thereby missing the entire Wallaby Grand Slam tour of the UK & Ireland, the first they have attempted for 25 years.
Barnes and Australia have been here before. He survived just 20 minutes of last year's Wallaby tour to the northern hemisphere before damaging a knee against Italy which ended his tour.
Earlier in the week, when he announced a much changed team from the side thrashed 33-6 by New Zealand in Wellington last month, Deans welcomed the return of Adam Ashley-Cooper to full-back at the expense of youngster James O'Connor, who was brutally exposed in Wellington.
But last night in Tokyo, Deans was forced to make the switch in reverse, restoring Ashley-Cooper to inside centre and recalling O'Connor. It isn't just England who have been beset by injuries - the Wallabies were already without injured former skipper Stirling Mortlock.
Other Australian changes see wings Digby Ioane and Peter Hynes recalled, and Wycliff Palu brought back at No. 8.
The Wallabies do have a new captain, in last year's Leinster talisman Rocky Elsom, in place of the axed George Smith. But you have to wonder whether even Elsom's charismatic style of play will be sufficient to drag Australia off the scrapheap where a failed Tri-Nations campaign has left them.
The Wallabies have lost their last six successive Tests to the All Blacks and, although Graham Henry's men are hardly in the peak of form after a poor season by their standards, it will be a major surprise if the Australians can turn them over in Tokyo's National Stadium.
Nevertheless, both coaches are in no doubt as to the value of tomorrow's Test. “The value of Saturday's game is high from the European tour point of view” said coach Graham Henry. "It's very important for the tour for both teams. If you can get some momentum, that's good for going on. So we are expecting there to be a lot of intensity and a real edge to this Test."
Despite finishing the Tri-Nations on a high in Wellington, New Zealand have made changes themselves, recalling wing Sitiveni Sivivatu and second five eight Conrad Smith behind the scrum, with 60-cap veteran Rodney So'oialo replacing Kieran Read at No. 8.
Tickets for the match are costing between 152 euros and an extraordinary 520.
M. Muliaina; C. Jane, C. Smith, M. Nonu, S. Sivivatu; D. Carter, J. Cowan; A. Woodcock, A. Hore, N. Tialata, B. Thorn, T. Donnelly, A. Thomson, R. McCaw (Capt.), R. So'oialo.
J. O'Connor; P. Hynes, R. Cross, A. Ashley-Cooper, D. Ioane; M. Giteau, W. Genia; B. Robinson, T. Polota-Nau, B. Alexander, J. Horwill, M. Chisholm, R. Elsom (Capt.), D. Pocock, W. Palu.
Referee: M. Lawrence (South Africa).Reuse content