Wilkinson worry for the Lions

Second Test: Young stand-off heads lengthy list of hospital-bound tourists as defeat adds injury to insult
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The Independent Online

As the Lions lost the Second Test and arguably the momentum to win the series, four of their key players were taken to hospital for treatment of a variety of injuries.

The most serious of the casualties appeared to be the outstanding young stand-off Jonny Wilkinson, who went down in the 74th minute and didn't get up. Wilkinson was taken off on a stretcher clearly in agony from damage to his left leg. Brian O'Driscoll had a scan to his neck. Although he was in distress after 25 minutes, falling awkwardly, he played on.

The England flanker Richard Hill had his nose smashed in a collision with Nathan Grey shortly before half-time and Wilkinson's partner, Robert Howley, suffered a recurrence of rib damage as the match went into prolonged injury time.

The Wallabies were also hurt. Andrew Walker had a fractured cheek bone, Matt Burke, who scored 25 points, had a shoulder injury and Stephen Larkham who was targeted by the Lions, picked up an arm injury.

Last night Hill said he would be OK for the finale but the loss of their half-backs would leave the Lions severely handicapped for the deciding Test in Sydney next Saturday after the Wallabies not so much turned the tables as kicked the door down yesterday.

"We didn't get the points we should have in the first-half,'' Graham Henry, the Lions' coach, lamented. "If we had taken our opportunities it would have given us momentum.''

The turning point came a matter of seconds into the second-half when Wilkinson's intended pass to Rob Henderson was intercepted by Joe Roff. "That score gave the Australians a lot of confidence and from then on they played very well,'' Henry added.

"We now have a huge challenge on our hands and we've got to get it right this week. We have the same challenge as the Australians had last week. I was disappointed with our line-out and there were a few 50-50 passes. We should have been more clinical. We can't let what happened in the second-half dictate what's going to happen next week. We've got to keep our composure and concentration.''

Martin Johnson, the captain, still has a chance of becoming the most successful leader in Lions history but he admitted: "We need one last massive effort, it's more a mental thing than physical. We lost a bit of control and that cost us very dearly. We need to get our heads up very quickly. We've had one bad half of rugby in two Tests. We expected more from Australia in the first-half but in the second they got better and better. We self-destructed in some areas and missed a few calls in the line-out.''

Shortly after Roff's interception the left wing was in again, this time after the Lions' scrum had been pushed back on their own put in. "They shifted us and got us off balance,'' Johnson said. "Maybe we took one or two things for granted. Last week we finished everything off and this time we didn't. Give them a sniff and they're a different side.''

Rod Macqueen, the Wallabies coach said: "This was about pride in Australia. Win or lose it was important for us to play well after Brisbane.''

John Eales, Australia's captain, who capped an excellent display on his 50th appearance, admitted that the Roff's interception had an important bearing on the result. "It helped us a lot,'' the captain said. "By half-time we had had very little possession but I was confident that if we could get the ball things would happen. Games often hinge on small developments and the interception was a great catalyst.

"I still think the Lions will be extremely dangerous. Nothing that has gone before affects what will happen next Saturday.'' Eales was grateful that yesterday the red sea of Lions' supporters were matched in quantity and volume by Wallabies fans. "There was an incredible atmosphere and it was good to see a lot of gold out there.'' Towards the end the Australians in the crowd began to chant "You have gone very, very quiet over there'' as the various anthems of the four nations failed to hit the roof of the Colonial Stadium.

One of the Wallabies' great strengths has been their homework on the opposition. Not only did they go into the first Test with only one warm-up game but they weren't up to speed with the Lions' Test team. This had lead to an outbreak of whingeing Wallabies with Michael Lynagh turning on Eales and Steve Larkham questioning the tactics he was asked to execute in Brisbane. Yesterday there was no element of surprise for the Wallabies and they didn't need excuses.