Baxter believes tough love will help Wallabies
September 1, 2013
Former Wallabies prop Al Baxter knows first-hand how tough McKenzie can be © Getty Images
The former Test tight-head prop, who played under McKenzie for five seasons with the New South Wales Waratahs, told The Sydney Morning Herald the new national coach faces a similar challenge now to the one he dealt with when he began with NSW. The Waratahs finished eighth in his first year at the helm but rose to second in 2005 and third in 2006. He was released after the side finished second in 2008.
Baxter, who earned 69 Test caps before retiring in 2011, is confident about the potential of the current crop of Wallabies players.
''Look at the squad and there is a huge amount of talent there,'' Baxter told The Sydney Morning Herald. ''But having seen the first two games perhaps there has been a lack of concentration and a lack of competitive will for 80 minutes. The first 20 minutes of each game has been great, it's been brilliant. Then a couple of things have gone against the boys - refereeing decisions, or the bounce of the ball - and it seemed that they have not been able to sustain what they did in the first 20 minutes.''
Baxter remembers well the pain inflicted by McKenzie during training drills in Sydney and doubts the new national mentor's methods have changed significantly.
'''Link' is really good at getting the best out of groups by creating a constructively competitive environment where you work as a team, but you are competing against each other the whole time,'' Baxter said. ''I would imagine he hasn't changed enormously his training techniques. I remember every single training session he did, every single drill you did was a competition. You never just went through the motions.
''We did a drill where you had two forward packs fighting for the ball in a 15-metre-by-15-metre square,'' Baxter says. ''The idea was to get the ball and score. But it was such a small square to work in, it was an absolute melee. After one session there were about three broken noses, [Phil] Waugh broke his ribs. It was just carnage. I thought it went too far.
''At the end, we said, 'We shouldn't do this because we actually need players to play in the game on the weekend.' Link pulled it back a bit, but there was blood everywhere. 'I am sure the boys will get absolutely smashed at training [next week]. Each time we had a break it would be worse because he would absolutely ride us with full-contact drills.''
The Wallabies play the third match of their Rugby Championship campaign against South Africa at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Download ESPN's new UK multisport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter
While the Super Rugby season enters the all-important knockout phase, elsewhere pre-season training never looked so enjoyable. We round-up the best snaps in our Week in Pictures