Australia's hopes of recovering from a chastening defeat to New Zealand and breaking a 26-year hoodoo have been dealt a potentially severe blow with captain David Pocock an injury doubt.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, who described Saturday's 27-19 loss in Sydney as below Test standard, confirmed his skipper was an uncertain starter for the next fixture in the Rugby Championship after a first-half injury.
Basic handling errors, missed one-on-one tackles and the concession of a try from an All Blacks set piece left Deans in a dissatisfied mood even before he realised the extent of Pocock's knee injury.
The clash at Eden Park on Saturday doubles as the second of three Tests to decide the Bledisloe Cup and the Wallabies must win in Auckland for the first time since 1986 to prevent the All Blacks from holding the title for a 10th consecutive year.
“There's a possibility he may be unavailable,” Deans said of Pocock, who received treatment at half-time on Saturday but finished the match.
“I saw him being assessed and had a quick yarn with him. He came back and he was good. He said he had no problem carrying on and that's what he did.”
Pocock though was in pain Sunday and went for scans, which confirmed he suffered damage to the articular cartilage of his right knee. He will consult a surgeon Monday to determine the course of action to rehabilitate the injury.
Meanwhile Deans sifted through the rubble of a defeat that was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggested.
“Some of the errors were just unacceptable in any competition at any level,” Deans said.
“It shouldn't happen at this level. We have to be better in Auckland. That wouldn't be too hard, to be fair.”
Pocock would be an enormous loss but Deans's other headache is whether to retain Berrick Barnes at fly-half or recall the unpredictable and controversial Quade Cooper.
Cooper fell short of expectations at the World Cup and he would receive a hostile reception at Eden Park after being accused of cheap shots on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw last year.
“We'll make that decision at a later date,” Deans said.
“Berrick did pretty well under the circumstances, kicked superbly. We weren't quite able to secure enough momentum to make his job easier. When we did, he profited.”
Kurtley Beale was the chief culprit on the Wallabies error count but vice-captain Will Genia said his fullback should be spared individual criticism for coughing up possession and missing the tackle that allowed Israel Dagg's opening try.
“Kurtley is disappointed as much as everyone else is,” Genia said.
“He made errors but we all did. They all compounded to put us under pressure. Obviously it was uncharacteristic from Kurtley and you can comfort him but it is a group effort. We all made mistakes and we're all disappointed.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said his side would prepare thoroughly for Eden Park after slackening off and nearly being beaten in the second Test against Ireland in June.
“It's about going home, staying humble, keeping our feet firmly on the ground and not too much back slapping,” Hansen said.
“We've got an opportunity here to keep it (the Bledisloe Cup) if we prepare well and make sure we do what we have to do in a genuine fashion.
“And then if we front up on Saturday night with the right attitude, we give ourselves plenty of opportunity to do that because we have quite a lot of talent in the team.
“But if we go home and think we've done the job already, that's a recipe for disaster.”