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Baxter in 'career-best form' for Tahs

By Adrian Warren 30/03/2010 07:21:42 PM Comments (0)

NSW coach Chris Hickey believes oft-maligned Waratahs prop Al Baxter is in career-best form and will push for a return to the Wallabies line-up in 2010.

Australia's most-capped prop with 69 Tests under his belt, Baxter was overlooked for the European spring tour in 2009 and has had his fair share of critics over the years who cite his intermittent problems with scrummaging.

But the 33 year-old, who's set to bring up his 100th Super cap with the Waratahs against the Cheetahs on Saturday, has proven himself against some of the best packs this year according to Hickey.

"I think it's the best football I've seen him play," Hickey said on Tuesday.

"In terms of scrummaging, he scrummaged against some of the best props in the southern hemisphere and I think he's always come out on top in those contests.

"Against the Sharks, he scrummed against two Springbok props and he was the dominant tighthead at the end of the day.

"His work around the park ... he's been really good this year, regularly getting up ten tackles in a game for no misses.

"He's also getting three or four good ball carries for us, so I think he's in the best form that I've actually seen him."

Hickey said on current form and consistency, he believed the selectors would be taking a look at Baxter.

Tighthead prop Baxter had started five of the first six Tests last year but fell out of favour with coach Robbie Deans and didn't figure in the last seven internationals of the season.

Ben Alexander was subsequently converted from a loosehead to fill a tighthead role, the Brumby subsequently starting the last eight Tests of the year in the No.3 jersey.

Baxter described his form as "alright" but was keen to concentrate on the Cheetahs this weekend rather than speculate on resuming his international career.

He said he was wary of the Waratahs being sucked into playing the game style favoured by the 12th-placed Cheetahs, who have won just two out of six matches this season.

"They are big blokes and if you let them play their way, they are a really hard pack to play against," Baxter said.

"I think this week is a lot about discipline, to make sure we play the way we want to play and don't get caught in that South African wrestle."

Hickey said captain and flanker Phil Waugh and No.8 Wycliff Palu remained 50-50 chances to recover from injury in time to face the Cheetahs.

Part of two NSW teams which reached Super finals, Baxter felt the Waratahs had a good chance of being in the mix again this year.

"I think the big thing this year is the close games that in the past we've lost, we've won (in 2010)," said Baxter, referring to four NSW victories by seven points or less in 2010.

Hickey said he was focusing this week at sorting the Waratahs' defensive structure after they conceded four tries to the Blues last Saturday.

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