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).
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.