FLORENCE: Robbie Deans says fatigue at the end of a ''demanding year'' was partly to blame for Australia's second-half collapse against Italy on Saturday.
The Wallabies allowed the home side to pile on 13 unanswered points in the second half to close a comfortable 16-point gap between the two sides and leave Australia clinging to the lead for the final 20 minutes.
Captain Nathan Sharpe blamed poor decision-making and sloppy execution for the turnaround and Deans said it was clear the squad was feeling the pinch after a long year.
''It is evident the batteries need recharging … the first half was good, the second half we were half-a-metre to a metre off, so we will allow the blokes to recharge as best as possible. We won't want to drain all the energy prior to playing this week,'' the Wallabies coach said.
Deans stopped short of blaming tiredness entirely but said it was ''part of their performance, no doubt … They showed great resilience to hang in under genuine pressure''.
The Wallabies travelled to Cardiff on Sunday for the final game of their four-match European tour, bringing the season full circle with a Test against the country they beat, three games to none, in the June internationals at home.
There is some doubt over the fitness of halfback Brett Sheehan, who was taken off with an ankle injury in the first half in a devastating end to his first Test start.
Scans revealed no broken bones but the ankle is sore and will be monitored closely. Wallabies medical staff were positive, a team spokesman said.
After missing the window to recall France-based No.9 Luke Burgess, the prospect of losing half the squad's halfback stocks before the match against Wales is unsettling for Deans and his staff.
He played down the risk after the game, saying: ''We will have some conversations about that, we have been communicating with a couple of blokes. Prior to even leaving we skilled up a couple of blokes domestically, but we will deal with that in time. Immediate feedback was they thought he [Sheehan] would be around.''
Deans praised the defensive efforts of players, including centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, breakaway Michael Hooper and forwards Wycliff Palu and Sitaleki Timani.
Timani was one of the biggest contributors to turnovers in the side and cost Australia Robert Barbieri's try early in the second half, but Deans defended his powerhouse lock, who escaped citation for an apparent hit on an opposition player and generally made the desired physical impact, particularly in the scrum.
''He was immense out there tonight because it was very much a physical pressure they were putting us under. Blunt and direct, and we had to stand up to it and we did,'' Deans said.
The Wallabies' strategic kicking game was once again found wanting, particularly in the second half. Deans targeted that area after the Test against England, where similar judgment lapses cost Australia possession and put them under pressure.
''We didn't kick well, that's the key thing, it's decision-making, it is thought process,'' he said. ''But that is often the first thing that goes when you are under pressure and feeling pressure, that's sometimes how you respond. It's an easy way out. But the way the Italians played and brought an enthusiasm to their game, there wasn't an easy way out.''
Sharpe said ''compounding errors'' in the second half cost the Wallabies their margin.
''Any time we had any likelihood of getting some attacking play going, we'd make a mistake and put them just outside our 22,'' he said.
''They're known for their strength when they get into the 22 and we held them out from that position, [but] there's all sorts of ways to win a game, you can win it pretty, you can win it ugly, but we won and we'll take that.''