In military parlance, a force multiplier is an asset that increases your ability to succeed in the violence of the battlefield.
Transposed to rugby it is the people, strategies, innovation and organisation that you can bring to your franchise to enhance success.
And one of the major force multipliers in any season will be the Australian Super 14 coaching crew.
This year it’s a relatively stable bunch with only one head coaching position changing hands over the summer and a tweaking of a few support roles.
After the decimation of last year’s management and coaching group, Ewen McKenzie got the gig at the Reds without too much fanfare.
His appointment is a good fit as they’re looking for long term stability and a degree of credibility in the first instance.
Le Link is a successful and experienced coach who is capable of bringing them both. Timing was all important for him and the Reds, and in this case the stars were aligned.
I’m disappointed we didn’t see him sans dacks in the Stade calendar, but to me his man boobs looks more at home at the Brekky Creek than at the Café de Paris.
There are question marks over the cattle at Ballymore, especially up front. If anyone can toughen them up it is Link and the scrum doctor, Alec Evans.
The Reds are broke and can’t afford to buy their way out of this hole. McKenzie needs to temper the ‘crazy brave’ back division of last year and bring some discipline and maturity to their play.
As for Jim Williams’ much touted Reds engagement, taking over the forwards coaching role from Mark Bell, I suppose that ended up on the cutting room floor with Phil Mooney?
Jim McKay, a former Sydney club mate of McKenzie’s at Randwick, is the backs and defence coach who superseded Damon Emtage.
A former director of coaching at the Leicester Academy; by all reports a quiet achiever – he has his work cut out for him.
With consultant coaches Tim Horan and Pat Howard to call on, I’m picking that Link will be the Red’s force multiplier this season – there is no other option.
Everybody was excited when Chris Hickey was appointed the Waratahs coach after Ewen McKenzie’s tour of duty. More so in anticipation of bringing with him his winning club culture, having achieved considerable success with the Vikings in the ACT and Eastwood in Sydney, nigh on eight titles in 14 years.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it panned out but ending up 5th on the Super 14 ladder is nothing to be sneezed at in your first year. Although that’s a slide from 2nd with Link the year before.
What frustrated Waratahs supporters of course was the style in how that was achieved. Expecting blancmange, they got lumpy custard instead.
The attractive, expansive Eastwood style of rugby was nowhere to be seen.
The Tahs’ backs never quite gelled, seemingly playing a safety first game of either hoofing it up the middle or a repetitive crash ball at inside centre, à la Tom Carter.
If you were a winger you’d be pleading for at least some gruel – so starved of the ball were they: ‘please sir, can I have some more?’
It was only at the end when Hangers and KB operated in tandem at 1st five eighths and 2nd five eighths did it look the slightest bit attractive.
The arrival of Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell and Sosene Anesi will provide Hickey with some serious talent to work with and hopefully free up the pacy outside backs.
As for the forwards, they’re close to a Wallaby pack and operated accordingly. Michael Foley turned up from the Wallabies at the beginning of last year and built on an already impressive platform.
The Waratahs forwards will be even stronger this year with the continued development of players like Benn Robinson, TPN, Dave Dennis and Ben Mowen.
Scott Wisemantel is another with Wallabies coaching experience who you’d expect would be getting more out of the side.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the rule changes provide Hickey with the incentive to change tack and actually use his back division to their fullest potential.
I think this will be a make or break season for Hickey who must satisfy the voracious NSWRU Board and his harshest critics, the fans.
The arrival of Wallaby assistant coach Richard Graham to the Force as the replacement for John Mulvihill is a win win for both the coach and the franchise.
Firstly, he’ll be operating under the most experienced Super 14 coach in Australia. John Mitchell’s coaching résumé is without peer having been involved with Sale, Wasps, Ireland, England, Waikato NPC, the Chiefs, and of course he was the All Black coach (and Robbie’s boss) for a couple of years including the 2003 RWC.
Secondly, his own coaching credentials are impressive with substantive credits at Bath, Saracens and now as the Wallabies skills coach.
For him, having the ability to continue coaching at an elite level between Wallaby gigs is important for both consistency purposes and as an influence on current and potential international players.
Sadly, they have gotten off to a – on the bushfire threat level: catastrophic – start. To lose one international five eighth is unfortunate, to lose two is downright careless.
Everybody knew that André Pretorius was a risk, as he had ‘form’ – his career has been punctuated by injury. Keeping him on the park was always going to be the challenge.
Was due diligence properly done prior to this recruitment? With a coach as savvy as Mitchell you’d imagine the answer was yes. However, it’s all about risk management and there are lots of variables involved.
This injury will have a significant impact on how the Force play the game this year. Let’s hope Bart, Harry, Rabbit or any emergency recruit provide the necessary direction.
Last season, John Mitchell operated with one hand tied behind his back. Player power restricted his ‘freedom of movement’.
It seems that everyone learnt something from this and normal service has now resumed.
I think the Force have recruited smartly, beefing up the front row in particular and, in view of the General’s demise, wisely with inside backs.
The Mitchell Graham combination, ably backed up by debut Skills Coach Geoff Townsend (Southern Districts, Manly, NSW U19s), have a complementary skill-set that will resonate in the West and I’m expecting their recent trial form to follow through into the competition proper.
Pass me the envelope please? And the winner is…..the Brumbies. There are high expectations of the Brumbies this season. Crikey, if you’ve recruited two world class players on top of the other 14 past or present internationals in your squad that’s not really surprising.
Coach Andy Friend is in his second season with the Brumbies. There was a complete cleanout of coaching staff at the end of 2008.
He recruited former London Broncos league coach Tony Rea for defence and skills, and Melon Finnegan as his forwards go-to man.
Bill Young is the scrum doctor, but I think the Brumbies scrum have been seeing an anaesthetist during the trials. I’m sure Ben Alexander will make a difference when he returns.
Friend has been there done that, having coached in Japan, in the U.K. with Harlequins and around Australia (NSW, Australia U21, Wallabies technical adviser).
He’s probably the main exponent in the Oz Super 14 ranks of an attacking, open style of play. The change in the interpretation of the rules will suit his team down to the ground.
Friend will be hoping for a more consistent performance from his charges this year. On paper, with the addition of Elsom and Giteau, he’s seemingly got every base covered.
Last year, Friend had his fair share of injuries and operated a very inexperienced backline at times.
Some of those players will have kicked on, especially guys like Toomua, Lealiifano, Fainifo and Wallaby tourists Chapman, Smith and, Ma’afu.
We’ve yet to see the best of the Brumbies under Friend. The difference this year will be that there is some depth across the park.
The pressure and expectation will be on Andy Friend to deliver on behalf of Australian rugby. He’s got the smarts and the cattle to do it. Let’s hope he can meet our expectations.