The question on everyone’s lips is how much will Matt Giteau’s departure hurt the Western Force this season?
Let’s face it, in the three seasons he was there it was essentially ‘all about Gits’. He was their million dollar man, possessed oodles of star quality and was worth every cent.
Commanding the backline around the park he made audacious breaks, kicked a few goals and cemented his position as a world class five eighth. As an aside, he helped develop one James ‘Rabbit’ O’Connor as the next big thing.
No use crying over spilt milk now. His replacement André Pretorius is no mug. He is a talented World Cup winning international who is a bit unpredictable about the park. He can break a game open by taking on the line and stepping.
Pretorius also can put players into gaps with some neat distribution skills and in the time honoured manner of class flyhalves, controls a game.
He’s not a bad kicker either, both tactically and at goal, especially drop kicking. He also tackles unlike his replacement at the Lions Earl Rose.
He’s a recognised and admired leader. He’ll be just what the doctor ordered for the young talent time in the Force line-up.
This all sounds good but what’s the downside? Is there a downside?
Yes there is. You could say that he’s injury prone. He has been plagued by injury throughout his 31 test career.
Most recently he didn’t play at all for 14 months due to a foot injury, missing the entire 2008 season. It seems like it’s not that often he actually gets through a full season without injuries.
In 2009 he did last the distance in the Super 14 but he didn’t play any Currie Cup due to a thigh injury. He’s often described as ‘mercurial’ by the Saffa Press. Where have we heard that before Carlos?
Pretorius has played 11 seasons for the Lions/Cats and at 31 is at the tail end of a ‘what might have been’ career. Still, 31 test caps aren’t to be scoffed at.
If he can stay on the park I think he’ll be an experienced and settling influence on the Force, maybe in the mould of a more traditional five eighth.
I certainly think he’d be a better proposition than Carlos will be for the Lions.
Inevitably Pretorius will be their starting No 10 but can play fullback in case of any eventualities.
The Force also signed former NSW Waratahs utility back Sam Harris. You’d probably describe ‘Harry’ as a journeyman.
He’s been around the traps (Waratahs and mungos) since about 2001. Last year he went to Japan, playing for Honda Heat. He spent more time at five eighth than in the centres.
He’s a fairly big guy and a direct runner and I think it unlikely he’ll be selected at No 10 in Perth. I reckon he’ll be more of a bench centre unless injuries provide him with those opportunities.
There was some suggestion that Rabbit might be considered for fullback this season but unless Robbie has influenced selections, I’ll believe it when I see it. Wasn’t it Rabbit that baulked at re-signing until an ‘appropriately credentialed’ general was found to play alongside him?
The trials will probably give more of an indicator but if he’s not at inside centre the creativity of their backline will be severely curtailed. This guy’s got it in spades and if he wasn’t quite ready for ‘First XV’ Wallaby action in 2009 he will be soon.
Drew Mitchell had some issues with consistency but provided a bit of star quality amongst the Force back three. He was regularly switched between wing and fullback for the Force depending upon injuries to Shepherd, Staniforth and others.
Shmoo’s given valuable service to the franchise since 2007 and his creativeness and finishing skills will be missed. Likewise Scott Staniforth whose career has been injury disrupted and who was a seriously underrated player.
Mark Bartholomeusz, the most recent signing, is another who can play in multiple positions (five eighth, inside centre, wing and fullback). After leaving the Brumbies in 2004, he spent two years in the English Premiership with Saracens, another two with Ulster and most recently two years in Italy with Petrarca Padova.
Bartholomeusz has spent most of his career playing either five eighth or fullback, and those are the positions coach John Mitchell also sees him settling into.
“In very brief discussions with Mitch he has asked me to concentrate on the 10 and 15 roles at this stage of our pre-season campaign,” he said.
“That’s what I’ve done and have tried to concentrate on the skills that will be required to play those positions. In my time overseas I’ve played a fair bit at fullback in recent years.”
His claim to fame was the two minutes (‘Noodles’) he spent on the park in his only test match for the Wallabies against Italy in 2002.
The reality is that 32 year old Bartholomeusz has probably signed his last professional contract at this level and I wouldn’t expect him to be of the same quality as Mitchell.
I’d suggest a workmanlike player perhaps in the mould of a Clinton Schifcofske (but multi-skilled). Hopefully he’ll still have the legs for Super 14.
As a direct replacement for Josh Valentine, new scrumhalf Brett Sheehan plays a different style of rugby. He’s more aggressive around the rucks and likes to use his strength on attack. He should be effective feeding off a much improved pack.
It’s also time Cameron Shepherd enjoyed a bit of luck on the injury front. At his best a strong finisher with a big boot Shepherd, Ryan Cross, Dane Haylett-Petty and Nick Cummins (once he returns from injury) round out the backline. Tatupu and Sare will provide adequate backup and there’s a heap of young halfbacks to snap at Sheehan.
The eclectic back mix of old stagers and up-and-comers is not quite up to last year’s standard but will play to their strengths, perhaps in a more traditional style of play, and behind a much improved pack will operate with more consistency.
Super 14 Finish: 6