I need to be up-front. I am not a fan of yours. I never really have been. That’s not your fault. It’s my problem.
I have been critical of Australian rugby’s development of what I call ‘proper fronties’ (or distinct lack thereof) over recent years. Matt Dunning and then you came to emulate everything I was finding frustrating. Maybe it was unfair. Actually no, it was unfair. But you became the focus of my angst at the bigger picture and I confess to regularly giving you in particular a fair spray (which I’m sure you heard through a TV screen half a planet away). You know things are getting intense when your own eight-year-old says ‘Dad, his mummy wouldn’t like to hear you say that’.
My old dad used to say about getting priorities right in life: ‘Boy, meat and potatoes first. Then worry about the gravy. You don’t put gravy on the plate first.’ To me, your around-the-ground gravy was great – you sniff out a try wonderfully and you’re a handy defender — but your meat & potatoes scrum work was sub-standard at best and at times diabolical. Then the whole tighthead one week and loose head the next week merry-go-round became as nauseating to watch as it must have been for you to play.
To my ignorant eye it seemed to start with your feet being poorly aligned. That added to making it look like your hips were too high in relation to your shoulder height (pre-engage meaning you had to bind elbow-down, pull through and lever up post hit to stay upright), but when playing tight head your outside hip was invariably sitting higher then your inside hip meaning your breakaways shove was lost as it went up-and-over the centre-line of power. To compensate for that (and to be fair, the obvious lack of weight coming from behind) it looked like you had to anticipate the engage more then most and that got you into trouble over-extending and thereby eating grass and giving up 3-pointers. As much as it drove me insane to watch it must have been totally bloody disheartening for you to play too.
You may think me wrong. Fair enough, too. You have played for the Wobblies and I never did so what would I know? You have every right to completely ignore my ignorant comments. According to Matt Burke, my opinion isn’t worth shite anyway.
But all that being said, I would like to congratulate you on your game on the weekend against the Poms.
To be honest, I groaned when I saw you named to start and I watched that first scrum between the fingers over my eyes. But how happy was I when I saw your torso straight, your angles clean and the transfer of drive almost tangible through the screen? (Or was that the sleep deprivation-related delirium watching an Aussie scrum overpower an English scrum?) I’ll bet possibly the only person happier about that then me was you! And it wasn’t just a one-scrum-wonder either but it continued all game. There was even a shunt tight-head.
A shunt tighthead against THE POMS?!?!?
I was giggling at that so much I spilled my hot choco-latte (well, that’s what I tell the kids it is anyway…). OK, there were two lapses in the second half when first you stood up and should have been penalised and then when the Mowhawk was replaced by the Samoan lad (he’s a big unit isn’t he?) your outside shoulder was too high, which let him go long, step around and drive you up. In the old days that was good scrumming on his part. These days it’s technically boring-in which is illegal (sorry Stig – disagree with you there). What the touchie was doing to not see that was mystifying (then again, they missed a few things that day – both ways).
But aside from that 10-minute rough patch, I thought your scrum work was grand and a country mile in-front of what I’ve grown used to seeing. Finally you weren’t playing as a fat backrower anymore. You piled up your meat. Your spuds weren’t half bad and then you poured gravy over the whole damn thing. Beautiful. You truly stood up as a proud and dare-I-say (?) worthy wearer of the national No. 3 jumper that day.
And look, after 35 years of playing in the front row myself (still going, too) it is appreciated that scrumming isn’t just a front row thing. It was good to see the loosies not playing meerkat too much and seeing the whole back five generally keep their shape and alignment. I’m sure having that Timani lad buried up your butt was also helpful too.
But at the end of the day you stood strong, you kept square, you found decent binds, you didn’t over-extend and chew grass and for what it’s worth you made even me – a cantankerous, bad-temper cynic at the best of times – proud to watch you play in my nations jersey that day.
OK. Let’s not get over excited. We won’t be swapping spit, holding hands or taking warm showers together in the wee hours of the morning. One game doesn’t make a career and you’re a long way from Link, Andy McIntyre or even The Blade. Therefore, I dearly pray you keep it up and don’t lose focus against the Dagoes or the Boyos (especially as both those mobs are decent scrummers).
But if nothing else, to towel up the bloody Poms up-front like that was Gold. Pure Gold. And a tight head to boot!!! It will not square the Wobblies’ ledger and erase the memories of the World Cup semi-final of 2007 or the humiliating debacle of 2005 (The-Event-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named). But while sitting here watching my national side go from hero to zero in what seems like perpetual seven-day cycles, watching the Poms get shunted consistently around none other then mighty Twickers itself by an Aussie scrum gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling I shall long remember.
So thank you, Ben Alexander. I will buy you a beer or two for that one day if I ever get the chance.
Cheers & Beers
Ps. You can tell your mate Fat Cat that I do consider him a proper fronty. Although he is about as intimidating as a Caramello Koala. And your other mate TPN, I think his lineout throwing is impeded by the friction created when moving his arms past his afro in the process of the throw. Tell him, cut the hair you Rasta Hippy and you will throw better. It’s the only excuse for his throwing I can think of.