Alexander axed in scrum shake-up
Alexander axed in scrum shake-upSHARE
Coach Ewen McKenzie axed veteran prop Ben Alexander as he looks to cure Australia's scrum ailments ahead of their Test against Ireland.
Officially Alexander is being 'rested', but given his extraordinary collection of scrum penalties in recent matches it came as no surprise when McKenzie named Sekope Kepu at tighthead for Saturday's encounter in Dublin.
Kepu will anchor Australia's much-maligned set-piece, as McKenzie made two changes up front.
Fearless flank Scott Fardy returns to the back row after recovering from a head knock in the tour-opening 13-20 loss to England, which sees Rob Simmons move back to lock at the expense of Sitaleki Timani.
Powerhouse hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau has also been recalled for his first Test of a injury-riddled year, to play off the bench alongside Waratahs teammate Paddy Ryan.
But the biggest change by far is Alexander being left out; 'rested' on medical advice, according to McKenzie.
McKenzie admitted Alexander's contributions around the ground had dropped at the end of a long season and team medics felt he'd benefit from a week off.
"He's been carrying soreness and things like that and in the end the medical people advised me that was the best outcome," the coach said.
Rated Australia's best technical scrummager, the 125kg Kepu has been waiting for another start since botching his chance in the forgettable 12-38 loss to South Africa in Brisbane, where he blew out of gas.
"He maybe got a bit excited and then burned himself out later in the game then we'd probably hoped so we've worked hard at his conditioning," McKenzie said.
"But technically he's very good, very strong at scrum time.
"The game is about balance.
"We want to see that technical expertise show up in the [scrum], but also get a balance in terms of contributions [around the field].
"He's a very powerful player, so it's just a matter of getting the energy at the right moments."
McKenzie has kept the same backline which produced seven tries in the 50-20 thumping of Italy in Turin, leaving rookie centres Tevita Kuridrani and Matt Toomua with a big task against Irish pair Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nic White, 22 Christian Leali'ifano, 23 Joe Tomane.
Date: Saturday, November 16
Kick-off: 17.45 (17.45 GMT; 04.45, Sunday, November 17 AEDT)
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)