Looking at Ben Alexander’s attacking stats from the Super 14 it is pretty clear he had a fantastic season – plenty of ball carries, plenty of metres gained, plenty of line breaks and to cap it off 7 tries, the second highest of the Aussie players behind Shmoo who bagged 9.
It’s not those stats that really interest me as I reckon a prop’s first job should be to hold up a scrum and not play like a 4th loose forward. We’ve been down that road with Eddie Jones, and it’s a dead end.
It hasn’t rated much of a mention, but at the scrum, Alexander was the most penalised Australian front-rower of the Super 14 giving away a whopping 19 penalties.
I didn’t compile the stats from the whole competition but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that 19 scrum penalties would be the most for the overall tournament as well.
Actually the Brumbies were the most penalised scrum of the competition conceding 28 in total with Salesi Ma’afu picking up 7 and Guy Shepardson 2. Out of interest, the Force gave away 20 scrum penalties, the Tahs 16 and the Reds 13.
So often when it comes to deciding who is at fault when a scrum collapses, the referee’s perception of the players involved is everything. You only have to think back to last year’s Tri-Nations when Craig Joubert and Jonathan Kaplan effectively ended Al Baxter’s international career by penalising him out of the two Bledisloe games in Auckland and Sydney.
This doesn’t bode well for Alexander who was given a pasting on three separate occasions by Kiwi whistler, Bryce Lawrence. Ominously for both Alexander and Wallabies, the very same referee will be in charge of two Wallaby games in the coming months, the first vs Ireland and the second vs South Africa as part of the Tri-Nations.
The game against South Africa could well be a low point for the Wallaby pack as the two touchies for that match are fellow New Zealanders Vinny Munro and Keith Brown. Munro hammered the Reds front row in round 7 against the Cheetahs while Brown took a set against the Force in round 10 against the Blues.
As bad as that might be, there is also the problem that both Joubert and Kaplan are scheduled to referee two of the Wallaby clashes against the All Blacks during Tri-Nations as well.
Alexander is the incumbent Wallaby tight-head and it will be interesting to see if Deans opts to shift him to loose-head in the absence of Fat-Cat. Based on the evidence of the Super 14, the quicker Alexander gets back to tight-head the better.
As I said, so much of the decision making with scrum penalties seems to be based on perception so it will be interesting to see if Alexander’s run of penalties follows him from the Super 14 into the Test arena.