Super Rugby 2013 Preview 3: Western Force

forceThe boat that is the Western Force was properly rocked during the off-season. Upper management apparently decided enough was enough and opted to relaunch the struggling franchise.

Former Wallaby, Michael Foley, was appointed as head coach and they made a shrewd move by also hiring David Wessels, a top-notch defence coach. To me Foley’s appointment was quite ironic if you take into account the disastrous season he just had at the Waratahs. Nevertheless, he has a tremendous track record otherwise.

Other changes saw the release of many players, but also the loss of some key playmakers – backs Cameron Shepherd and Napolioni Nalaga left for Europe, whilst the Rebels contracted centre Rory Sidey. The retirement of Nathan Sharpe came as no surprise, and combined with David Pocock opting to move to the Brumbies, created a gaping hole.

Foley’s talent search resulted in the signing of accomplished halfback Alby Mathews and a few Super Rugby novices like flanker Chris Alcock, midfielder Jayden Hayward and fly-half Sias Ebersohn – hopefully Sias left his old kicking boots in Bloemfontein.

Also adding strength to the team are the welcome return of Sam Norton-Knight and Hugh McMeniman, who could be rather inspirational if he manages to stay injury free and on the pitch long enough.

There will be some fierce competition in the front row with Tetera Faulkner and Salesi Manu to put pressure on Pek Cowan, Kieran Longbottom and Salesi Ma’afu. Newfound duo Angus Cottrell and Lachlan McCaffrey will also be keeping regulars Richard Brown, Matt Hodgson and Ben McCalman honest around the fringes. The right combinations are going to be key, or else Foley will be eating his words after boasting to have the best back-row in the competition.

Due to the departure of two captains, the Force have handed the reigns to Matt Hodgson – I suppose that’s if he can first cement his place in the starting fifteen.

At this stage, it is difficult to estimate how well the backline will perform, but I’d definitely keep my eye on Nick Cummins who’s really came into his own this past season. The Honey Badger had a great 2012 and with sufficient support from the new recruits, he might be able to convert more of his trademark line breaks into tries.

Even though Will Tupou experienced a very quiet first season, he survived the switch from league and is probably itching to show his true worth. I for one am really looking forward to seeing what he’s capable of.

To top off their attempted resurrection, the Force will be unveiling their new home ground, the vastly improved nib Stadium on 23 March against the Cheetahs. With more than 10,000 season tickets already sold, it is evident that the fans are as excited and optimistic as the players and coaching staff. Apparently we are to expect a more attractive and fun game, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

The pre-season fixtures against the Brumbies and a select Tonga XV will be a stern test for this unpredictable side and perhaps give some insight into their future. Getting off to a good start will not be easy as their first four matches of Super Rugby are played away from home; only time will tell whether this will make or break them.

I reckon they’ll have another frustrating season with a mountain just too big to climb. My prediction for the Western Force is last place on the Australian log and 13th overall.

Here’s a question for you. Will Sias Ebersohn’s move to the Force revive his career or will he end up like former Cheetah teammate Sarel Pretorius did at the Waratahs and spend most of his time on the sideline?

by Jackie Smit

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5 comments on “Super Rugby 2013 Preview 3: Western Force

  1. Quick follow up report: The Force narrowly lost to the Brumbies in their first warm-up match, going down 20-18, depicting a pretty decent fight back if you consider that they trailed 17-3 after the first 20 minutes.

    According to reports the team started maturing right in front of everyone’s eyes as the match progressed, a welcoming sight for Foley no doubt.

    Sias Ebersohn was successful with both his shots at goal and had all the points on the table been taken by both teams, the match would have ended in a draw.

    Sublime effort by the Force, they are due a lot of credit for conceding only 3 points in the last 60 minutes against a team as well-groomed as the Brumbies.

    Another good performance against the Tonga Select XV tomorrow will give them proper momentum before their opener against the Rebels on Friday 15 February.

  2. Hey there Jasper, good on you mate. How did you know what the result of that match was gonna be?

    I just watched a clip of the match between the Force and Tonga XV – Force won 46-0.

    It only shows the Force on attack, but the scoreline is suppose is evidence enough of their defense.

    I saw some good drives, strong scrum work, nice hands to move the ball along the backline and some great awareness by everyone in the Force team to make the most of every opportunistic moment that came their way.

    Well done, boys!

  3. It is early days, but it doesn’t seem like the new defense coach has paid dividends yet. I get the feeling that had Beale been on the ball, the margin could have been greater.

    Ebersohn is an idiot! Who kicks away possession when you are within winning range, have a superstar like Mafi on your side and only 5 minutes left on the clock?

    Good call on Faulkner and Cottrell, Jackie, they were really impressive.

  4. Result:
    Rebels (30) – Tries: Ged Robinson, Hugh Pyle, Richard Kingi. Conversions: James O’Connor (3/3). Penalties: O’Connor (3/3). Yellow Card: Scott Higginbotham

    Force (23) – Tries: Alfie Mafi (2), Richard Brown. Conversion: Kyle Godwin (1/3). Penalties: Godwin (2/3). Yellow Cards: Alby Mathewson, Chris Alcock.

    Result:
    Brumbies (24) – Tries: Jesse Mogg (2). Conversions: Christian Lealiifano (0/1), Ian Prior (1/1). Penalties: Lealiifano (0/2), Nic White (2/3), Mogg (2/3).

    Reds (6) – Penalties: Mike Harris (2/5).

    Super Rugby Team of the Week – Round 1

    15. James O’Connor – Although it was difficult to look past Jesse Mogg’s try-double, the Rebels fullback looked the better all-round player and with a 100% kicking record, who wouldn’t want him in your team.

    14. Richard Kingi – Playing on the wing for the Rebels, the versatile busy body was all over the park and although he misses more hits than he makes, he is a strong runner and flamboyant finisher.

    13. Mitch Inman – Nothing much happened in the 13 jersey and the only thing that lifted the Rebels centre’s mediocre performance above that of the rest, was his ability to pilfer the ball a couple of times.

    12. Kyle Godwin – Much to the disappointment of many fantasy managers, Christian Lealiifano’s had a very bad day with the boot and although Godwin only had a 50% success rate and Lealiifano being the better defender, the Rebels midfielder kept to opposition quite busy.

    11. Alfie Mafi – Undoubtedly the shiniest star of Round 1. Not only did he clock the most running metres, besides O’Connor, but he broke through several tackles, and dotted down twice – even though his efforts were in vein and not enough to change the fate of the Force.

    10. Quade Cooper – Another area of mediocrity which forced me to choose the Reds flyhalf even though he had a scarcely above average game compared to his own high standards. He is not big on tackling though and my midfield now looks rather vulnerable. They’ll be dangerous on attack though and should just keep possession of the ball.

    9. Nic White – Will Genia is by far the best Australia has to offer in the halfback department and as he did not play, I had to go with the only other option on display. His useful boot saved Lealiifano from further embarrassment, helped the Brumbies secure their first win and therefore edged him ahead.

    8. Gareth Delve – The Rebels skipper was as rock solid as always. He carried the ball well, put the tackles in and led by example. Mention must go to Richard Brown for the immediate impact he made; in the 20 minutes he spent on the field he threatened the defence on a couple of occasions and scored a try.

    7. Liam Gill – Although David Pocock surely made his presence felt during his Brumby debut, the ever improving Reds flanker was as much of a nuisance, but carried the ball better and with more force.

    6. Angus Cottrell – This hardworking backrower has a habit of making the most of every opportunity he gets and yet again showed how he thrives on contact situations.

    5. Luke Jones – This young Rebel followed his breakout season up with a strong start to the 2013 season. His versatility makes him hard to replace and he didn’t put a foot wrong in the season’s first match.

    4. Hugh Pyle – His exceptional understanding of the line-out and formidable presence makes this blossoming second rower an asset for any team. He rarely misses a tackle and his strong ball carrying skills managed to get him across the chalk line once again.

    3. James Slipper – The Reds’ tighthead prop just managed to edge out Tatera Faulkner as he is a more concrete option on defence.

    2. Ged Robinson – It isn’t every day that you see Stephen Moore take the backseat, but even without taking into account his 5-pointer, the Rebels hooker made his presence felt right across the park.

    1. Greg Holmes – There was really nothing in this decision as none of the loosehead props did anything to write home about. Forced to choose between Greg and Pek Cowan, I opted to flip a coin.

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