Wallabies prop Matt Dunning returned from the match-eve captain's run at Wembley a worried man, deeply concerned that the unstable surface of soccer's most fabled stadium might make scrummaging treacherous.
"It's just like loose carpet," Dunning said. "As soon as you pack a scrum on it, the whole surface folds up."
As a surface for football, Wembley is picture-postcard perfect. Indeed, an hour before kick-off the Wallabies were greeted by the unexpected sight of five groundsmen walking in staggered formation behind lawn mowers, imprinting patterns into the manicured turf. It all seemed quite pointless when something just short of 2000kg of opposing scrums came crashing together, churning the pitch into almost a ploughed field in parts. The first rugby match ever to be played at the new $2billion Wembley will surely be the last, if the ground staff have any say in the matter.
For 46 minutes, the surface held together just enough for the lurching set pieces to get their business done. But then the Wallabies scrum packed down in desperate defence 5m out from their own line, digging in with their tags to repulse the expected eight-man shove from the Barbarians.
That's when Dunning's worst fears were realised. The surface shifted, his leg went with it and in one sickening moment, his achilles tendon snapped. As he crumpled to the ground, the weight suddenly sheared on to the other side of the scrum, seemingly all of it coming to bear on Australian loosehead Sekope Kepu's right upper body, ripping apart his pectoral muscle.
In the space of two seconds, the Wallabies lost both props for the match and the NSW Waratahs lost them for most, if not all, of next year's Super 14. Having sent no fewer than four props away on the tour, the Waratahs will get back only two in working order, albeit the regular Test front-rowers Al Baxter and Benn Robinson.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans admitted the injury disaster had taken some of the shine off a memorable 18-11 victory over the Barbarians.
"It does and obviously the Waratahs won't be excited when they hear that news," Deans said. "It's just bad luck."
It was Australia's sixth successive and arguably most significant victory over the Baa-Baas, given that yesterday's match was staged to commemorate the centenary of the original Wallabies' gold medal win in rugby at the 1908 London Olympics.
Kepu was able to climb the 107 steps up to the presentation area to receive his commemorative gold medal from Princess Anne but not so Dunning who admittedly would be gnashing his teeth more at the thought of sustaining such a crippling injury just as he was about to go on holidays and put some serious work into his golf game.
Waratahs coach Chris Hickey did not watch the match on television, but he soon heard the bad news about Dunning and Kepu.
"I was travelling to work while the game was on and then I headed straight to training," Hickey said. "I've heard a lot of information about it.
"It's always disappointing when players get injuries that will keep them out for a while.
"No one wants to lose two quality players, but we have some depth here.
"Dan Palmer and Jeremy Tilse have been working hard at training. We have some coverage in that area."
A veteran of 43 Tests, Dunning is the second-most experienced front-rower in the Waratahs squad, while Kepu is an emerging player.
"It's not ideal to lose experienced players like Matt," Hickey said. "When you look at the fact we have already lost Dan Vickerman (Cambridge University), Rocky Elsom (Leinster) and David Lyons (Scarlets), that experience starts to add up."
Hickey, who intended to watch a video tape of the game last night, was unaware of the state of the pitch.
"I'd be surprised if they didn't choose a suitable venue," Hickey said.
Meanwhile, Wallabies number eight Wycliff Palu will undergo an arthroscopy on his injured shoulder next week, but he is expected to be fit for the Waratahs' opening game of the 2009 Super 14 series against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Valentine's Day.
Palu aggravated a long-standing shoulder injury in the Wallabies' 18-13 win against France in Paris three weeks ago and returned to Sydney.
"If things go well, Cliff will have a six-week rehabilitation period and be back on deck after Christmas," Hickey said.