WALLABIES five-eighth Stephen Larkham was last night rushed to hospital as a knee injury left his World Cup in crisis.
The injury means rookie five-eighth Berrick Barnes is on the verge of an amazing promotion. Larkham underwent scans and is in grave doubt for tonight's Pool B showdown with Wales, but also faces lingering concerns that the damage could end his Test career.
The Wallabies centurion, on his final campaign in national colours before retiring from international rugby, was hurt during the closing minutes of the Australian team's game-eve training run at the Welsh Institute of Sport.
The secret session, closed to the media and public, was reaching its conclusion when Larkham had his knee lock-up while practicing drop kick restarts with second rower Nathan Sharpe.
He slumped to his haunches, told a team official he was "f.....", and called for medical treatment.
"I don't know how it is, we're going off for an MRI now," Larkham revealed to The Daily Telegraph in the foyer of the Wallabies team hotel later.
He returned 90 minutes later in more positive spirits with Wallabies coach John Connolly saying his priceless playmaker would have a fitness check just hours before the game with Wales.
"He's aggravated an old injury," said Connolly.
"He'll have treatment, he's 50-50, we'll see how he pulls up after a sleep."
Connolly confirmed that Barnes, who scored two tries on his Test debut against Japan in Lyon last week, would start if Larkham fails to recover.
"Im ready for it, yeah," said Barnes.
Concerned team officials had tried to keep a lid on the incident which threatens to seriously undermine the Australian ***le challenge if the premier playmaker is sidelined for an extended period or, at worst, rubbed out of the tournament.
When the injury happened, it halted Wallabies training and sent an eerie silence through the camp.
"You couldn't hear a thing," one of the Wallabies staff told The Saturday Daily Telegraph later.
"The place just stopped completely."
Larkham missing the Welsh match was not the most significant cloud that hung over the Wallabies World Cup challenge in the early hours of this morning.
He has been billed as the most irreplaceable figure in the Australian bid for the Webb Ellis trophy.
Without him, can the Australians mount a genuine challenge for the ***le? Can they possibly hope to beat the likes of the All Blacks or the Springboks if their princely playmaker, the man who has run the show for more than a decade, for more than 100 Tests, is not there in the No. 10 jumper?
Not sure about Berrick at 10, i think he could do the job but surely the most obvious decision would be to move Gitz to flyhalf and bring Staniforth in to play 12, non?... it would certainly make me feel a little more confident.