Prop master: Ben Alexander, 29, rugby union player
Ben Alexander plays as a prop for the Wallabies and the Brumbies Super Rugby club. He has played 63 Tests for Australia, missing just six since his return from a 2010 knee injury.
Richard Cooke So you weren’t just a rugby player at school, you were an actor as well. Is that right?
Ben Alexander That’s not right. Did you get that from the Brumbies’ media guide?
RC It’s floating round in a few different places.
BA That’s a fabrication by my best friend, the Brumbies’ media manager. I’ve never acted in anything in my life. I’ve been stitched up there.
RC It’s in Wikipedia now, so it’s official.
BA Our media manager, I was best man at his wedding, and he was my best man at my wedding, and so he feels he has a liberty to make up whatever he wants about me. It’s not the only thing he’s made up that I’ve had people ask me about. He has creative thoughts.
RC What else have you had?
BA That I can fit 40 marbles in my mouth. There are others.
RC You’re not tempted to knock off a community production of Oklahoma! in the off-season?
BA No, no, nor The Boy from Oz. I’ve got a face for radio, mate. I wouldn’t make a great actor.
RC In the first 2014 Bledisloe Cup game in Sydney in mid-August, you managed to stop the momentum of the All Blacks for the first time in a long time. What was different about that game?
BA I think Australian rugby’s really starting to build a bit of momentum, and you saw that in Sydney. We had a great crowd in what were really, really wet and trying conditions for fans. Obviously it wasn’t a great game, but the fans that were out… I reckon the crowd was a big part of why we played well.
RC You made the decision to stay in Australia and chase Super Rugby glory and have come tantalisingly close a couple of times. Do you try to be philosophical about it?
BA It definitely fuels the fire for wanting to go back and train hard, and make sure I help my teammates play even better next year at the Brumbies. That’s why you play sport – to win and win silverware – and that’s something I haven’t done a whole lot of in my career.
RC Are you finding it more physically demanding in the scrums? You’re now up against some guys who are tipping the scales at 135 kilos. It’s an arms race.
BA There’s definitely a fitness element to scrummaging that’s just come in. Big heavy scrums, they can scrum at the start of a game … but there’s no more sort of “easy” scrums, where you can just win the engagement and the ball’s in and out and it requires very little energy. Every scrum is more of a contest under these new rules, every scrum requires a lot more effort, especially on your own ball. You can’t just win the hit and catch your opponents off guard. Every scrum is leg-sapping, energy-sapping. It’s not just size or strength – there’s also a huge conditioning element to scrummaging now, and also even more of a mental one.
RC With life after rugby, if it’s not acting, what do you think you’ll end up doing?
BA Directing… Actually, I’m not sure yet, but I know I want to keep having something to do with rugby, even if it’s just at a social level.
RC People seem to stay invested in the culture of rugby after they retire.
BA A lot of the culture’s about the people, so you have to say it’s the people who are involved who create the culture. Everyone’s got pretty fierce competitive streaks on the field, but away from the game everyone’s really close. We can all go have a beer together, and what happens on the field well and truly does stay on the field. I mean, I don’t play any other sports professionally, but definitely the rugby community feels like a community. You chat to anyone and they say they’re a rugby person and a lot of people sort of share those same values. That’s something that makes it unique.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 30, 2014 as "Prop master". Subscribe here.