Waratahs escape again on late game-winner
Berrick Barnes has led the NSW Waratahs to a priceless 28-22 victory over Super Rugby frontrunners the Brumbies on a night of carnage for Wallabies hopefuls at ANZ Stadium.
Robbie Deans will name a 25-man squad on Sunday to tackle the British and Irish Lions next month, with a further six players to be added on June 11 - but while Barnes dazzled, the Wallabies coach saw six internationals injured on Saturday night.
NSW's incumbent Test hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau is almost certainly out of the Lions series after breaking a forearm just before halftime.
Five other Wallabies candidates also failed to see out the match, including champion Brumbies flanker George Smith, who limped up the tunnel on the hour mark with a knee injury.
Waratahs centre Rob Horne, troubled by an eye problem, was replaced after a strong first half, while his Brumbies opposite Christian Lealiifano suffered a corked thigh and was also unable to return after the break.
Brumbies centre Pat McCabe hobbled off in the second half, while it was a particularly sad night for NSW's incumbent Test lock Kane Douglas.
The Waratahs wore black arm bands and there was a minute's silence observed before kick-off following the death of Douglas' mother Trish during the week.
Her son then only lasted half a minute before being escorted off in a concussed state after colliding with Smith in the opening exchanges of the match.
The Brumbies looked set to consolidate top spot on the table and end NSW's finals hopes when they led the Waratahs 22-21 as the clock wound down.
But a try to winger Peter Betham six minutes from fulltime, after a lovely pass from five-eighth Bernard Foley, saved the Waratahs' season for the second week in a row.
Two long-range penalty goals from Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg had broken a 16-all second-half deadlock before a disappointing crowd of just 21,817 spectators at ANZ Stadium.
But after putting flanker Michael Hooper over in the 45th minute, Barnes - who replaced Horne at halftime - combined with Hooper again to score himself on the wrap around to spark the Waratahs' fightback with a quarter of an hour remaining.
The Brumbies led 13-6 at the interval after posting the only two tries of the half through skipper Ben Mowen in the 21st minute and centre Tevita Kuridrani in the 37th minute.
But two unsuccessful conversion attempts from Mogg kept the home team in touch.
Mogg's fullback showdown with Waratahs star Israel Folau ended in a stalemate with Mogg's 15 points from five penalty goals countering another impressive display from Folau in both attack and defence.
Brumbies coach Jake White said Smith would go for a scan on Sunday but doctors fear he has torn his medial ligament.
"I'm not going to say that he is fine. He got a bang on the knee and there's obviously a concern," White said.
"At this point of time it looks like it might be his medial ligament, which is not the one that needs surgery, but for Robbie's concern, if it's a six to eight-week injury that means he won't be involved in the Lions series.
"I don't want to say that's definite. We'll see how it pans out once he's had a scan."
White was unsure of the extent of McCabe's knee injury but said Lealiifano should be okay.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika was resigned to Polota-Nau being out for some time, but said he replaced Horne moreso to allow Barnes to give the side better shape in attack.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen commended Barnes for "taking the game by the scruff of the neck" late on.
NSW Waratahs 28 (Berrick Barnes, Peter Betham, Michael Hooper tries Barnes 2 cons Brendan McKibbin 2, Barnes pens) ACT Brumbies 22 (Tevita Kuridrani, Ben Mowen tries Jesse Mogg 3, Christian Lealiifano pens) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: Steve R. Walsh. Crowd: 21,817