Western Force have real firepower in 2010
ACT Brumbies

Force Have Real Firepower in 2010

Force Have Real Firepower in 2010
Falstaff or Mercutio?

Falstaff or Mercutio?

If ever there was a time for the Western Force to fulfill their real potential it’s now.

They’ve essentially been a journeyman outfit since entering the Super 14 competition in 2006.

I don’t mean that in a negative way because they’ve achieved more in the last four years than many of the more established Super 14 sides in particular the Reds, Lions and Highlanders.

What I mean is that they’ve been the ‘blue collar’ team of Australian rugby. The fibros to the Brumbies silvertails? Perhaps self-fulfilling an expectation about Western Australia?

Roll up your sleeves and do the hard work but lets not be too flashy. I think their results have been more about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Finishes in the Super 14 of last, 7th, 8th and 8th (in 2009) indicate quite a solid performer but it’s time to go to the next level.

They have been fortunate that they’ve had Matt Giteau of course, who’s been their talisman and playmaker extraordinaire. Without him they would have lost more than a few games.

And they’ve achieved these solid results with a below par front row and a lack of depth in certain crucial positions. However, I think that’s about to change to some extent.

I’ve said before that they’ve recruited wisely and they have. They’ve never had consistent grunt up front and parity rather than domination has been the result.

They’ve disposed of the beached whale A.J. Whalley to French Div 2 outfit Dax; Gareth Hardy to English Guinness Premiership cellar dweller Leeds; Troy Takiari to French Div 2 side Grenoble and the one hit wonder Ben Castle to Newport Gwent Dragons.

Can you believe he was their ‘marquee’ signing? An old mate from the Waikato Mitch? The Jerome K. Jerome of professional footy, cruising rugby’s waterways and mooring at the occasional French, Australian or Welsh port.

Perhaps unkindly this group reminds me of the Winston Churchill quote “never in the (rugby) field of human conflict was so little owed by so many to so few”.

At hooker Tai McIsaac, an eight capped Wallaby, has of course departed to Nippon to coach but he was better value in his four years than any of the others.

Second string hooker Luke Holmes was cut from the squad at the end of the season. Apart from promising Australian U20 hooker Ben Whittaker, the stocks are quite bare.

The backup at the moment is Rockingham’s Ryan Tyrell, 26, who has been switched from loose forward by the Force.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a specialist hooker and fringe representative player from clubland in Sydney or Brisbane is recruited in due course.

There were unsuccessful moves for Queensland’s Sean Hardman, Australian U-20 captain Damien Fitzpatrick who re-signed with NSW, TPN and Springbok Bismarck du Plessis from the Sharks.

The Force were also blocked by the ARU in their bid to sign Otago NPC hooker Peter Mirrielees as their second overseas player (too old).

McCalman - keeping Wallabies honest

McCalman - keeping Wallabies honest

However, Matt Dunning has arrived from the Tahs as the potential cornerstone of the pack.

A 43 game current Wallaby, Bouncer aka Tucky has developed over the years from a Falstaff of Shakespearean proportions to a seriously good tighthead (or loosehead).

Pek Cowan is developing nicely as a 2nd tier Wallaby and his best days are yet to come. They’ve essentially ruled out using him as a hooker but I suppose you could never say never.

Tim Fairbrother, the 27-year-old tighthead prop signed from the Hurricanes is a former New Zealand under-16s, 19s and 21s player with 58 Super games under his belt.

He rejected some lucrative European offers to come to Perth and join the Force.

He never quite cut it as a permanent run-on selection in recent years although he was crueled by injuries in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and latterly competed with Neemia Tialata for the position.

Nick Henderson played 70 matches with the Brumbies after making his debut in 2004 and in that time he became one of most reliable and consistent props in the country, also playing three Tests for the Wallabies.

The 28-year-old earned seven caps in the 2009 Super 14 season, but was after a change to somewhere he felt he would be better utilised and appreciated.

In talks with the Australian clubs, it quickly became obvious to him that the Force would be the standout choice.

“There were a number of reasons and I won’t go into all of them, but I obviously approached the Force with the idea of coming here. They were welcoming to that and at the end of the day I looked at where I felt my services would be most valued, and the Force was the standout in that,” Henderson said.

Henderson at loosehead fills out the propping roster with Keiran Longbottom the local lad as backup.

Tamaiti Horua departed for Ulster at the end of last season and the Force have wisely recruited young Wallaby trialist and Sydney Uni backrower Ben McCalman.

Tall, athletic and aggressive with loads of promise this 21 year old will be keeping Matt Hodgson and Richard Brown honest.

Add in the mix Nathan Sharpe coming back to full fitness, Bam Bam Pocock the new wunderkind of Australian rugby and a group of promising young second rowers, we have a pack with real firepower that will compete with all and sundry.

  • Joel

    Um, Matt “Le Cochon” Dunning is not, never has been and never will be a top-level prop.

    What about the crucial loss of Gits? Who is their new playmaker?

    • Lance Free

      Joel – I’ve just concentrated on the strengthened forward pack. The backs will be my next post.

      PS Tucky is the 2nd best tighthead in Australia according to Robbie Deans…..

      • Nipper

        A guy named Andre Pretorious? (insert sarcastic tone here) you may have heard of him before…. ?

        Former Springbok and Super 12/14 Lion?

        He’s no Gits, but he’s not too bad if he can stay healthy.

      • Joel

        Bring on the backs then :)

        James O’C is a real find. What to do with him at int level though? I really rate AAC as a strong, quick and smart outside back. Do you play him at outside centre then?

        PS I’ve heard Tucky talked up before and seen him destroyed by his opposing loose-head.

        PPS As for AP – great heart, good kick, but injuries have robbed him of his finest and the injury list is long and varied.

  • ben

    Hes a Yarpie at 5/8 and hes not bad…also have JOC at 12 and Cross at 13.

  • Farva

    Word on the street is that Mitchell will be playing JOC at 15, which I disagree with.

    Also, the outside backs are looking average, with Cummins out for the first half of the season, meaning that DHP, Sare, Shepherd and Bartholomeusz are the options there (and JOC). And I would guess Tatapu at 12 if JOC goes to 15. Tatapu hasnt really excited me, but he is young so hopefully he will be able to step up from last year.

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  • TOCC

    I cant say i necessarily agree with thought that the Force been blue collar team of Australian Rugby, it wasnt that long ago that they were signing every player off contract to rediculously priced deals, backed by the now defunct firepower.

    I think in 2010 they will reflect a more blue collar outfit, with the forwards to do the hard yards and a backline which is solid but not going to set the world on fire.

    But in years gone by, the Force have been about signing all the big name backs and practically ignoring the forward pack.

    It will be good to see them play a more forward orientated game in 2010.

    • Lance Free

      TOCC – Yeah, that’s what they’ve been missing alright, that forward grunt. It’s only the hooker area I think that will be an issue if there are injuries.

      I really like the look of young Tom Hockings in the 2nd row, and Wykes seems to have plenty of ability (just needs a bit more bulk).

      I think McCalman is going to be the dark horse.

      • ash

        I think hooker and second is their achilles in an otherwise strong pack.

        At lock, after Sharpe (who tends to play too loose for me in the S14, even after tightening his game for the Wallabies in successive years), there’s Hockings, who so far has only shown potential and injuries. Then there’s a heap of shortish (for 2nd row) unproven youngsters.

        I’m still waiting for another hooker signing, but they’ve apparently already reached the limit of 31. Older good club players like Ovei, Manning (is he still around), etc would be a smart signing.

        • happy hooker

          Manning is playing Knox Old Boys in Sydney First Div Subbies…agreed 2 is tough.

          Tahs have 3 top level hookers which isn’t really good for Australian Rugby as a whole – these guys need exposure.

      • TOCC

        agreed, they have developed quite a few hardworking forwards there, Brown, Hodgson and Hockings are all hard workers withouth been spectacular.

        Hooker is a very dubious spot for them, but its been a dubious spot for them the last 3 years, its not like they havent had time to identify possible replacements.

      • todd4

        The Force have just added a third hooker to the training squad. James Parsons 23y.o. from Takapuna club in N.Z. His player profile is on website http://WWW.harbourrugby.co.nz , I understand he is on a 5 day trial with the Force, if things work out he could travel to Cape Town with the Force for their 2 trial matches against the Sharks & Stormers. I wonder if anyone knows much about him?

        • Lance Free

          He’s a fair bit younger than Otago’s Mirrielees so I guess they’ve got ‘development player’ exemption for him. I think he’s the guy James Hanson from Queensland subbed for in the NPC.

        • Lance Free

          I’ve spoken with the Force. Confirming todd4’s info regarding Parsons. He’s on a trial and they’ll make a decision on him early next week as to whether he gets a ‘development player’ contract. That will be the last vacant position they have to fill.

  • Robson

    One of the things which should help the Force probably more than anything this year is a return to normal coaching transmission.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, Mitch has been trying to do it by remote control. Going back to more normal coaching and mangaement routines will be a refreshing start for them. Gits will be missed, but that doesn’t mean the side will be intolerably hogtied without him. But we’ll get to the backs next I guess.

    Meanwhile the pack has a solidish look about it and should be highly competitive at the breakdown – where, IMHO, games tend to be won and lost. So as long as they can hold their own at the set piece, things look quite bright for them.

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ACT Brumbies

Roscoe Tims (aka @LanceFree): A nasty, opinionated little man whose views are indeed narrow with a capital 'N'. Favourite Sport: mungo bashing. Does he ever have anything positive to say?

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