Poor scrummagers tag grates Alexander

As the British & Irish Lions prepare to fill a Paul O’Connell-shaped hole in their pack for Saturday’s second Test at the Etihad Stadium, Australia prop Ben Alexander is focusing on another likely change, to the tourists’ front row.

Poor scrummagers tag grates Alexander

Alex Corbisiero, part of an excellent Lions front three alongside Tom Youngs and Adam Jones, is a major doubt with a tight calf muscle, his possible absence a huge cause for concern given that Alexander and company turned the tables once they were withdrawn from the fray by Lions head coach Warren Gatland after just 52 minutes, Jones being replaced by Dan Cole.

Mako Vunipola, a less technically able scrummager than Corbisiero and his likely replacement, conceded a vital late penalty against the Brumbies tighthead that had Kurtley Beale not slipped at the vital moment could have won the Wallabies the opening Test. That had Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree extremely concerned as he prepared to correct what he described as “technical aspects” after 50 minutes in time for the second Test.

Not that Rowntree was taken aback by the way the Wallabies’ scrum rallied in Brisbane.

“I’ve had many experiences of a Wallabies pack, I keep getting asked about a supposed weakness with this nation in the set-piece, but they are not surprising me at the moment, I’ve got a lot of respect for them and how they are coached. Hats off to them.”

Naturally, despite Rowntree’s praise for the Australian forwards and their coach Andrew Blades, the outdated suggestion that the green and gold pack are poor scrummagers still grates on Alexander.

“We’re not fussed what people think. It’s about the standard and the pride we have in our own scrum that matters most to us and if people want to keep referring back to a couple of games six to eight years ago, then that’s fine.

“Every side has its up-and-down scrum days and we’re not perfect. It’s something we’ve got to keep working on and we work extremely hard with Bladesy and all the front-rowers.

“We are constantly trying to analyse and figure out areas to improve.

“Nor is Alexander underestimating the Lions pack, despite its sketchy conclusion last weekend and there is no doubt in his mind that fellow tighthead Adam Jones is the reason the tourists click at scrum time.

“There is a reason why Adam Jones is rated as one of the best tightheads in the world. He is as clever and as smart as a prop goes in world rugby. I’m sure there were a few little games being played in and around the engagement and I’m sure he’s got plenty more up his sleeve.”

“You look at how Wales went in the Six Nations: they had a tough game against France and then they came out and dominated all the other scrums for the rest of the championship. They brought something up they hadn’t used yet and that can definitely be said at scrum time, at maul times, any part of the game.

“With an experienced campaigner like Adam Jones it’s up to us to get our homework done and look at what he brings.”

“The occasion’s definitely not lost upon us,” Alexander said. “We had a lot of ex-Wallabies come in and tell us of their experiences and I’ve spoken to a lot of Brumbies guys who played back in 2001, guys like Stephen Larkham and Owen Finegan and they’re all saying ‘you’ll never get another chance of this’.

“So for Australian rugby it’s such a massive thing. We love playing against all the European nations because of that close bond, the history of how Australia was formed and this is not lost on us. We’ll never get another chance at this. “We’re lucky to get one chance, we missed it on the weekend but we’ve still got two more games and the boys are ready to start on Saturday and hopefully continue it on the following Saturday.”

Notice he said two more games. These Wallabies are planning for the long haul.

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