Sean McMahon’s Wallabies hopes may be dashed yet again by injury, with the fearless flanker dislocating his elbow in Melbourne’s 41-19 loss to the Crusaders.
McMahon’s arm was caught up in a tackle in the 73rd minute of the loss, with the 22-year-old coming straight off the field, holding his arm in a makeshift sling.
If the preliminary diagnosis is correct, McMahon could still be in with a slim chance of donning the gold jersey, but the blow is another bad turn of fortune for the backrower, the Rebels and the Wallabies.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was singing the youngster's praises just two days ago, amid speculation he is on the verge of signing overseas, with the Test mentor nominating him a potential national vice-captain.
Melbourne never looked like a threat to the rampaging Canterbury side, though no. 8 Amanaki Mafi was manful for the Rebels, in his typically hard-working fashion.
A Sam Whitelock charge that sent Nic Stirzaker into the turf set up Manasa Mataele for the first try of the match in the 17th minute, compounding a Richie Mo’unga penalty to make their lead 10 points.
The Crusaders’ dominance at scrum time, and across most of general play, put the Rebels on the back foot and a yellow card for Reece Hodge over an intentional knock down.
Crusaders replacement backrower Jed Brown scored off a lineout two minutes later, with the home side having barely touched the ball to that point.
It was three tries in the half hour as Crusaders centre Seta Tamanivalu added another in the 30th minutes, as the Rebels were starved of possession and territory.
There was a glimmer of positivity for the Rebels, when Colby Faingaa duped the Crusaders off a lineout to put Marika Koroibete over, but Brown had a double just a minute later to stretch the advantage back to 24 points at half-time.
Toby Smith found some reward for his form, reaching out under a pack of players to score in the 42nd minute and keep the Rebels in contention.
Some desperate defence from Melbourne stopped a near-certain Mataele score, thought the Cusaders adding points still felt like an inevitability.
And so it was, with fullback David Havili scoring the Kiwis’ fifth in the 46th minute to stunt the possibility of the Rebels bringing momentum.
The Rebels hung in there as the game ticked on and Koroibete had his second after a superb run from Mafi, with the winger beating a defender to cross, but again the Crusaders responded in kind, through Mitchell Drummond.
McMahon’s exit added salt to an already gaping wound, with thousands crossing fingers for the fan favourite.
Stirzaker said that early dearth of possession cost them dearly.
"I think when we have the ball we showed that we can play, we just didn’t have it in the first half at all, so we’re just tackling all day so eventually we’re going to miss a few," he said..
The Rebels travel to Canberra next weekend to take on the Brumbies, before the June break.
Tries: Koroibete 2, Smith
Cons: Volavola, Hodge
Yellow cards: Hodge (25')
Tries: Brown 2, Mataele, Tamanivalu, Havili, Drummond
Cons: Mo’unga 4