Force facing uncertain summer after Graham announces shock exit

The Western Force have begun searching for a new head coach following the announcement this morning that Richard Graham, contracted to the side until 2014, will be leaving at the end of the season to take up a coaching position with the Queensland Reds alongside Ewen McKenzie.

Having picked up only two wins so far this season, including a bonus point victory over champions the Reds in Round 7, the Force sit 13th in the table and are struggling to dominate sides upfront with their poor defence. Many of their results have been defeats by less than 7 points, but the side have been on the back-foot since before the start of the season when fly-half Willie Ripia was sacked leaving them short at number 10 after James O’Connor joined the Melbourne Rebels last summer.

Graham has been with the Force since 2008, originally as an assistant to John Mitchell before taking over on a full-time basis at the start of the 2011 season. Originally from Queensland, Graham spent time coaching at Bath and Saracens before returning to Australia in 2009, linking up the with Reds represents a move home for the former Australia A full back.

The concern is that with captain Nathan Sharpe retiring at the end of the season, the Force could also lose Wallaby openside flanker David Pocock. Born in Zimbabwe, Pocock spent his teenage years growing up in Queensland and has been linked with a return to the region joining up with the Reds, as well as being linked with the big-spending Melbourne Rebels. The Force have until the end of the season to tie Pocock down to a new deal, but to lose Sharpe, O’Connor and Pocock given their international experience would be a hammer blow to the side.

Chief Executive Vern Reid is adamant that the Force will bring in a world class replacement for Graham, with Michael Chieka the early favourite to take the job.