Western Force are pinning their hopes on the 'Little General' André Pretorius

Force pinning hopes on ‘Little General’

Force pinning hopes on ‘Little General’
Injury prone Andre?

'Mercurial' Andre?

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.

'Noodles' Bartholomeusz

'Noodles' Bartholomeusz

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.

My assessment:

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

  • Newb

    i agree with your predicted shift in playing style lance. with the imported engine room, the pack should be much improved, helping the set piece and ruck/maul area.

    most of the backline changes (pret, harris, bart, sheehan in; gits, val, stani out) have depleted the level of speed and creative flash that was there last year. so i expect a much more conservative, grinding style of play. the exception will of course be JO’C making a dart and getting promptly isolated ;)

    i will however greatly enjoy andre’s kicks at goal. i love the sand castle method. and they way he stares down the goal posts like he’s waiting for them to flinch in a duel. always entertaining.

  • Seb V

    i think they are capable of going well this season. They might even be the dark horse of the competition. They’re player combinbation works well, They got shepard at the back booting them out of trouble and Pretoris doing some decent tactical kicking which will put lots of pressure off them. Then they got pocock who will no doubt force a few penalities in the ruck and pretorius kicking them over. Probably wont be the most exciting team to watch but i recon they will win a few.

    • Juan Cote

      They did beat all the other Aust teams last year so you’d have to think they should do OK.

  • Like Newb, my Pretorious highlights are his “blue steel” preperation for a kick at poles.
    Andre’s drop goals would have been useful in ’08 in all those home games they lost by 1..

  • Robson

    I know the composition of the team is important but there is something just as important as the combination and that’s the preparation of the combination.

    Mitch has got all the reins back in his mitts now and it’s his contribution which will count most in getting the most out of these guys. Mitchell coaches with a fair bit of fire in his belly (a bit like Graham Henry used to)and if the players can show some steel and respond to it my feeling is that they’ve got the formula to be a real contender for the top six; but I can’t see them getting beyond that.

    In my ever so humble opinion, O’Connor is the talisman in this side now and he is going to trouble some defensive lines. In this regard, Ryan Cross might just get given a bit of space to wind up in.

    All in all I think it’s pretty exciting times for all the Oz franchises; even the Reds.

    • I’m very keen to see O’Connor at 12 more, will be very interesting to watch this season

  • Who Needs Melon

    I think Giteau played well at 10 for the Force but you lost me at Giteau “cemented his position as a world class five eighth”. They giving away the tag “World Class” in cereal boxes now?

    And that cement mustn’t have been mixed right coz it’s not holding up too good.

    An interesting season ahead for all the aussie Super sides.

    • Lance Free

      That’s your opinion but he’s recognised by most rugby authorities as one of the top two or three five eighths in world rugby – no argument about that.

      Some think he’s better suited to inside centre. I don’t think he’s had one of his better seasons but when he’s on song, he’s a game breaker. If anyone was picking a world team he’d be in the 22 (probably one of only a few current Wallabies – maybe Smith and/or Elsom on the bench – or if any).

      • Rocky Elboa

        Agree, even the Northern Hemisphere rate Gits. In the Rugby World Magazine he was placed at 12 inside Carter, to even make the starting 15 is a huge compliment


        • Who Needs Melon

          I definitely think he’s a world class 12… and a very good but NOT a world class 10.

          Sure – this is just my opinion – but I don’t think I’m alone on this one.

  • Pedro

    As much as I wanted Gerard to be selected ahead of Shepherd for the wallabies, I really hope he has a good season. Realistically he’s our only hope of a proper traditional full back for the world cup. I want a wallaby FB who can kick far, not just high.

    Aren’t they playing somewhere other than subiaco too? That will make a big difference.

    • Boomer

      Yes mate, playing at MES – ME Bank Stadium. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perth_Oval)

      Nice oval, might intimidate a few teams with the crowd much closer, but I don’t think it’ll make a huge difference overall.

      What the move to the new stadium will do is keep the members happy.

    • Pedro

      I’ve been to subiaco and it was pretty shit for the fans. It just felt a little empty and distant, even if that doesn’t influence the play a new stadium will make the fans happy and louder hopefully.

  • Rocky Elboa

    I think it will be interesting.
    The Force did beat all the other Aussie teams last year. Looking at the team they seam to be going for a Saffa style play, you know solid platform, dominate rucks and mauls and if your in your own half… BOOT IT.
    Boring YES, but it worked for the Saffa’s and is working for Saracens (AKA London Saffa’s).
    Two big questions though, will this game plan work against the Saffa teams who mastered it? And can they win at home. Unfortunately I see lots of 3 pointers in there future and few tries, they will do well but miss out on top four because of their inability to get bonus point wins.

    • The Force did a good job of ensuring that no Aussie team made the finals. That win (and no other changes to the comp table) would have put the Tahs into equal 2nd and the Brumbies into 5th, bumping the Crusaders out to 6th in the process.

  • Duke

    Yes buy who got the most 4 try bonus points last year?

  • Cobber

    2009 4 try BP

    Blues: 8
    Force, ‘canes: 6
    Chiefs, Lions, Brumbies: 5
    Bulls, Highlanders, Reds: 4
    ‘saders, ‘tahs, Sharks: 3
    Stormers, CHeetahs: 1

  • mudskipper

    Can’t see the Force doing well this season… better frontrow but still no hooker and not enough team depth in most positions.

    Andre will kick all day. So unfortunately expect to see few reel highlights from young James O’Connor in 2010. The Force will have little ball and play defensive rugby AKA Tahs 2008. And will likely win only some of the close matches.

    No 4 try bonus points from the Force this year they’ve lost their maestro Giteau… He’s gone back to his Brumbies roots were he is happy. Unless they play with ball in hand a lower mid table result is looming. Its a rebuilding year the Force.

  • PaarlBok

    Pretty much spot on regarding Genl Petoors. Injuries thats the one. He did combine outstanding with Mossie (Jac Fourie) at the Lions. He goes for the kill in the close games.

    I’ll be watching Petoors with interest.


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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