Chastened Australia frontrow Alexander fired up for England Test encounter

England urged by captain to raise standards and not settle for mediocrity

 Ben Alexander of Australia: scarred by third Test performance against British and Irish Lions. Photograph:  Warren Little/Getty Images

Ben Alexander of Australia: scarred by third Test performance against British and Irish Lions. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images


Australia prop Ben Alexander is haunted by his feeble scrummaging display in the third Test against the British and Irish Lions.

The Wallabies’ woeful set piece resulted in their 41-16 defeat in the series decider at ANZ Stadium with Alexander proving the weak link.

The 28-year-old was routed by Alex Corbisiero to the extent he was sin-binned after just 24 minutes and then failed to return. “After that third game I was devastated,” said Alexander. “To lose the series the way we did . . . hurts. For all the hype around the third game and for us to implode the way we did was just disappointing. I think the pressure got to us.

Corbisiero has been ruled out of Saturday’s Cook Cup clash with England because of a knee injury, leaving Alexander to lock horns with Mako Vunipola in a duel that will be far more to his liking.

The second Test in Melbourne saw Alexander win that battle – Vunipola started instead of the injured Corbisiero – but he admits he will always be scarred by the outcome of the series. “That arena has gone now and we’ll never have the chance to beat the Lions,” said Alexander.

Rebuilt England

Meanwhile, England have been urged by their captain Chris Robshaw to raise standards and not settle for mediocrity as they embark on a season of huge significance for their 2015 Rugby World Cup prospects.

Today’s team announcement is set to contain only four of the starting XV beaten by Australia in the corresponding fixture a year ago, a further sign of England’s ambitions.

“We have had 18 months to two years where we have had good and tough experiences and done a lot of learning,” said Robshaw. “Now it’s time for us to go up another gear.”

By most measures it would seem that England are already on an upward curve. Seven of their past eight Tests have been won and even their solitary defeat of 2013, to Wales in March, has had the benefit of forcing all concerned to work harder. The objective this autumn, according to Robshaw, is to ensure the grim memories of Cardiff recede rapidly. “We learned a very harsh lesson and we can’t afford to let it happen again,” said the Harlequins flanker. “We want to go out there and start this series well . . . We really want to kick on and show what we are about.”

Australia will also be much changed from a year ago, with a new coach in Ewen McKenzie and possibly only one three-quarter survivor, Adam Ashley-Cooper, from the starting XV which secured a gallant, resourceful 20-14 victory. They will be back again at Twickenham next autumn, but after that the two countries’ next meeting will be in the 2015 pool stages.

It will be fascinating to discover how many players on both sides manage to keep hold of their starting jerseys between now and then. England are without five injured Lions: Tom Croft, Manu Tuilagi, Geoff Parling, Brad Barritt and Alex Corbisiero. This is an opportunity for the likes of Billy Vunipola, Marland Yarde and Joel Tomkins, all starting a senior Test at Twickenham for the first time.

‘Real physicality’

All of them will be repeatedly advised by Robshaw not to underestimate the Wallabies. “Looking back to when Australia came here last year, they brought a real physicality that took us back a bit . . . You only host the southern hemisphere nations once a year or every two years and you want . . . those bragging rights.” Australia will face Ireland at the Aviva Satdium on November 17th.
Guardian Service