Wallabies wary despite ABs losing Dan Carter
It was always going to be difficult to lift the mood at a civic function marking a historic Super Rugby triumph in Sydney today - and not even Dan Carter's latest injury concern could enhance the celebrations for Wallabies-bound NSW Waratahs' players.
News of Carter's unavailability for at least the opening two Bledisloe Cup tests due to a leg injury suffered during the Crusaders' agonising loss at ANZ Stadium on Saturday filtered through to the Waratahs' Rugby Championship contingent shortly before a crowd of 5000 acclaimed the franchise's first title.
Halfback Nick Phipps, one of 11 understandably jaded-looking Waratahs bound for the Wallabies camp tomorrow, summed up Australia's attitude to the All Blacks having to compensate for the loss of their premier first five-eighth, yet again.
''He's an unbelievable player so that's a big loss for them but the thing about New Zealand is they've got so much depth everywhere. I'm sure they'll be able to find someone to fill that spot.''
That was certainly the case last year where Aaron Cruden and Tom Taylor filled in for Carter - who has not played the Wallabies since the 18-18 stalemate in Brisbane in October, 2012 - as the All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup with comfortable wins in Sydney and Wellington.
Cruden supplied 20 points as Ewen McKenzie's tenure as Wallabies head coach opened with a comprehensive 47-29 defeat at ANZ Stadium.
Seven days later Taylor booted four penalties and a conversion at Westpac Stadium to guide the All Blacks to a 27-16 win and in October Cruden's 23-point haul was a focal point of a 44-31 victory in the dead rubber in Dunedin.
The joy associated with the Waratahs claiming their maiden title has also been tempered by the Wallabies own injury concerns as they strive to regain the Bledisloe Cup 11 years after it was handed over at Eden Park.
First choice hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau will miss the early stages of the Rugby Championship with a knee injury he sustained against the Crusaders to delay his 50th test cap - a setback that exacerbates the loss of Stephen Moore.
The veteran, who spent only two minutes as a Wallaby captain before suffering a season-ending knee in the opening test against France in June, was meant to be covered by Polota-Nau but the pivotal role will now be shared by Nathan Charles and James Hanson, a raw duo with only three caps between them.
Polota-Nau's understudy at the Waratahs, Tongan-born 21-year-old Tolu Latu joins the squad in Bathurst tomorrow as cover to add another highlight to his breakthrough season.
A member of Australia's under-20s World Cup squad in 2012-13, Latu had only averaged 12 minutes a game in 2014 before he replaced Polota-Nau early in the second half against the Crusaders.
''For him that's unbelievable, that's great for Tolu,'' said Waratahs prop Benn Robinson, who put a brave face when contemplating his continued omission from the national team.
The 66-test loosehead, who last played for Australia against Wales in November, was overlooked for the French series and Rugby Championship squad - and there was no reprieve when Scott Sio rolled an ankle at training yesterday.
Rather than replace the five-test loosehead with a specialist McKenzie opted to bring in Melbourne Rebels tighthead Laurie Weeks, who debuted against France.
''It's always tough. I've played for the Wallabies for a long, long time. To miss out is always disappointing,'' Robinson said, before looking on the bright side during a glorious day for the Waratahs.
''I'm still a fresh-faced 30-year-old, I've got plenty of years left in me."