While coach Robbie Deans was delighted by Luke Burgess’s return against the All Blacks, the Wallabies halfback was scathing about his own performance, believing he didn’t do justice to the jersey.
One of the most despondent figures at Hong Kong Stadium following the Wallabies’ 19-14 defeat was Burgess, who blamed himself for the team being unable, for the second trans-Tasman Test in a row, to defend a lead.
"It was just really disappointing again, when our execution let us down at critical moments. I just didn’t throw good enough passes," Burgess said in an interview posted on the ARU website. "It is always a privilege to be in the Wallabies jersey, but I probably didn’t do it proud in this Test."
Burgess, who missed the previous three Tests, including the South African leg of the Tri Nations series, because of a knee complaint, marks himself hard, especially as Deans was enthusiastic about his return appearance.
As Deans said after the match: "For his first game back, and being in a contest like that, you have to be pleased."
One can understand why Burgess was concerned about his passing, because some to five-eighth Matt Giteau were wayward. But, overall, it was an exemplary performance, especially in the level of effort.
He was always trying to do something, and at half-time former Wallabies skipper and halfback Nick Farr-Jones praised him during an on-field interview for constantly attempting to get the Australian back line going. Burgess’s courage could not be faulted.
However, Burgess looked upon the Test as a wasted opportunity in which the Wallabies again showed their inadequacies.
"There was some good play, which we should have built on in the first half," he said. "Again we showed a bit of mental vulnerability in not sticking to our task, and not clearing the ball early in the second half from our 22. That heaped pressure on us, and I’m just very disappointed.
"There has been some close games this year, but it does reflect that we are a long way from where we want to be. We really have a lot of work to do. Results like the Hong Kong Test are just not good enough."
Improvement has been demanded on the next leg of the Wallabies tour, when the team heads to Padova for a Test against Italy on Saturday night. And even if the Italian Test is regarded as the easiest of the five internationals the Wallabies will play on the spring tour, the team has already received a warning from skipper Stirling Mortlock that if they slacken off this week, an enormous embarrassment is in the offing.
Two years ago, the Wallabies struggled against Italy in Rome, getting only limited possession after being threatened up front. The Italy pack remains potent, and the team has one of the best coaches going around in former Springboks leader Nick Mallett.
Mortlock, who skippered Australia during their scratchy 25-18 Rome win, knows how the Italians can undermine better credentialled opponents.
"The majority of their forward pack has exposure to French rugby," Mortlock said. "And that is all about doing the job up front, first and foremost. Their forward pack is one of the best."
When asked why so many thought Italy were international also-rans, Mortlock replied: "That is the wrong perception, and we found that [the] last time we went to Italy a couple of years ago. We then found how tough it was, in particular at home. They pride themselves on laying the foundation, and working from that. We will give them due respect."
That is why Deans will be careful with his Test selections. Although wanting to play many of his back-up players, he is aware of the dangers of resting too many key forwards.
The Wallabies pack is likely to be based on that which played in Hong Kong, with several young backs getting their opportunity.