Berrick Barnes’ early departure from Friday night’s trial demolition of Tonga appeared precautionary, but the Waratahs will still be holding their breath ahead of next week’s Super Rugby opener against Queensland.
The NSW star playmaker was only down to play 40 minutes at the Sydney Football Stadium, but was replaced in the 30th minute, nursing a groin complaint – as the Waratahs cruised to a 52-0 victory.
NSW were confident Barnes was just experiencing tightness in his right groin, with the stand-in captain having the area strapped as soon as he was replaced by Daniel Halangahu.
Barnes’ departure came quite suddenly, given the five-eighth had just thrown the last pass for Rob Horne’s try and potted his third conversion for a 21-0 lead.
Halangahu didn’t even have his shirt on when Barnes came from the field, and because of the delay, the Wallaby five-eighth even motioned to play on – a good sign the problem isn’t overly serious.
But if Barnes wasn’t able to back up in time for next Saturday night’s blockbuster against the Reds, it would push the Waratahs injury troubles towards a crisis.
Already missing the likes of Rocky Elsom (March return), Dan Vickerman (April return), Lachie Turner (season) and most likely Drew Mitchell for round one, NSW will be desperate for their No.10 to steer the ship against the defending premiers.
The news was better for giant No.8 Wycliff Palu, Horne, prop Benn Robinson and Adam Ashley-Cooper on his Waratahs debut, who all got through unscathed.
Impressive South African No.9 Sarel Pretorius showed off his brilliant running game, scoring the first try of the night and was named man of the match.
With the match broken into a first half and then three periods of 20 minutes for a total playing time of 100 minutes, confusion set in at the SFS when half the crowd of 4063 stood up and walked out after a hooter was blown at 80 minutes.
Even the match officials left the field and had to be called back.
Waratahs coach Michael Foley said Barnes would be properly assessed on Saturday, but at this stage there’s no doubt about his availability for the Reds match.
“We haven’t got the full medical there but it was really just the kicking that was irritating his groin and when that started to flair up a little bit we took the precaution of taking him off the field before it became more serious,” he said.
“There’s a couple of niggles that will be assessed but we actually got through a game without any so that’s a good thing.”
After last week’s 83-5 smash up of Samoa in the opening trial, it’s debatable whether the trial matches against the Pacific Island nations have been the preparation the Waratahs would have been hoping for leading into round one.
But Foley said he’s happy with where stars like Ashley-Cooper, Palu and Robinson are at.
“You saw a bit of impact from Cliff at times, Adam made a couple of incisive runs and certainly Benn scrummaged well, so a good start for all of those guys,” he said.
“I think we probably came out of that feeling like there were times when we didn’t control the ball well enough … some things for us to work on next week but generally some pleasing things.”