Baxter looking for perfect send-off
November 28, 2008
Al Baxter will be looking to put in another towering performance against Wales © Getty Images
At a time when Australia's front-row is on an all too infrequent high, Al Baxter's recollection of the team's physio taking scrummaging practice must seem like an age ago. While physio Cameron Lillicrap was a seven-cap Wallaby loose-head, the image is not one that inspired confidence in the pack's abilities.
Move forward a couple of seasons and the organised, fractious eight that made such an impact against England at Twickenham will rightly be able to hold their head high should they power Australia to a European clean-sweep with victory over Wales on Saturday. Under the guidance of former Bath boss Michael Foley the Australian scrum has improved dramatically, although their concession of a penalty try to France last Saturday shows that they remain a work in progress.
"There was a lack of concentration by us against France," said Baxter. "The thing we are really trying to work on is consistency, and we didn't have that last weekend. We have got to make sure we get back to where we were a couple of weeks beforehand. We feel we have been much improved this year - we just need that consistency."
Australia's improvement has much to do with the precise coaching regimen of Foley, who has rebuilt the pack's shattered confidence since his introduction to the fold. Baxter said, "Michael Foley came in and really started from scratch. He took everything away that we had been doing, and started from where he thought we should be. Queensland, when they were a very successful side in the 1980s, were a set-piece side who played a lot of 10-man rugby.
"Michael would have learnt from that as a Queensland player, and then obviously going to Bath and coaching a very good set-piece side as well. It has been about technique and philosophy for me. If you can't use your strength in the right directions, then it's useless.
"There is now a large emphasis on scrummaging from the team. It's seen as a proper contest, and somewhere where you can gain or lose ascendancy. The other thing is man-hours. We spend countless more hours now doing scrummaging sessions.
"The physiotherapist used to sort out the scrums - he was an ex-Wallaby prop, to be fair - but when you are busy doing all your medical work, and then on the side trying to do a bit of scrummaging, you just don't have the time. He did as much as he could, but it wasn't his primary job, so it was quite difficult for him.
"It's nice as a front-rower to come to Europe and speak about scrums. It's the focus of discussion, and that's really refreshing. Obviously, you don't want the negative stuff, but if it is out there and talked about, that's good."
Wales provide the Wallabies with their final challenge of the year, and should they beat the Six Nations champions they will have recorded their first unbeaten tour since 1996.
"It is going to be a tough one, probably the toughest on tour," said Baxter. "The Wales guys are obviously disappointed from not getting a win against South Africa or New Zealand, and being Six Nations champions they've got some talent behind them.
"At stages in both those games, they were very unlucky. It was touch and go pretty much all the way through. Gethin Jenkins (Baxter's opposite number tomorrow) is much like the South African looseheads - big and strong, and good around the park. He knows his stuff, so it is a going to be a tough day at the office."