Injury forces Horne out of Tri Nations

The Wallabies' dwindling backline resources suffered a further blow yesterday with scans revealing a small fracture in his right elbow.

MELBOURNE, Australia // The Wallabies' dwindling backline resources suffered a further blow yesterday when Rob Horne was ruled out of the remainder of Tri Nations after scans revealed a small fracture in his right elbow. The 20-year-old centre, who had been troubled by his arm before playing in Australia's 49-28 defeat by the All Blacks in Melbourne on Saturday, will require surgery for the injury which also included ligament damage, the team said in a statement.

"It's bad luck for Rob, but he's made an encouraging start to his international career, starting in every Test that we've played this year," Robbie Deans, the Australia coach, told reporters. Horne's place in the 24-man squad heading to Christchurch for the follow-up match against the All Blacks has been taken by Scott Higginbotham, the Queensland Reds loose forward. Higginbotham, and the Western Force pair of Ben McCalman, the loose forward, and Cameron Shepherd, the winger, will all fly to New Zealand today to join the Wallabies after playing for their clubs on Saturday, the team added.

Horne joins Digby Ioane and Peter Hynes, the injured wingers, on the sidelines, while Quade Cooper, the fly-half, will miss the match as he serves out a two-week ban for a dangerous tackle during the Wallabies' win over South Africa in Brisbane last month. Horne's absence may force a major backline reshuffle for the Wallabies, who lack a specialist at 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper and James O'Connor, the utility backs, are possible candidates to replace Horne, opening the door for Kurtley Beale, the New South Wales Waratahs full-back, or Shepherd to take a place in the starting 15.

One piece of good news for Australia was that Drew Mitchell, the winger, has avoided suspension after being sent off for two yellow cards during the loss to the All Blacks. Mitchell was cited after the Tri Nations match at Docklands stadium, where he was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle in the 28th minute and then sent off two minutes after the break for holding up play to leave the Wallabies with 14 men for the rest of the match.

"Sanzar (South Africa New Zealand and Australia Rugby) judicial officer Peter Ingwersen ... found the sending off was sufficient penalty and decided no further sanction was required," the group said in a statement yesterday. Mitchell, who celebrated wildly after scoring an early try before being sent off, however, was not granted a reprieve by Australian media, who cast him as a villain in the Wallabies' eighth consecutive loss to the All Blacks.

The Wallabies "continue to falter under pressure, waste opportunities, have absolutely no idea how to play well two weeks in a row, and believe the task has been done well before it has been completed - as shown by the silly antics when Mitchell scored the first try only to look damned stupid when he was red-carded 40-odd minutes later", wrote Greg Growden, the Sydney Morning Herald's rugby columnist. "This is a debacle, even prompting All Blacks coach Graham Henry to say if he was in a situation of eight straight losses he would feel 'sad'."

The Wallabies head to the fifth match in this year's Tri Nations in danger of matching their worst losing streak of nine defeats (1936-1947) to the All Blacks. * Reuters