Western Force: An Honest Look - Green and Gold Rugby
Rugby

Western Force: An Honest Look

Western Force: An Honest Look

Coming on the back of the Western Force’s 10th straight loss, it’s time to have a look at their season to date and place in the competition going forward.

 

Season to Date

There’s no way to sugar coat it, the Western Force are the worst team in the competition. In their loss on Saturday playing against the Blues, another cellar dweller team they should have at least been competitive. But they lost badly even if scoreline flattered them after the Blues let in two cheap tries when the game was won.

Blues and Force are both towards the bottom of the ladder, but for completely different reasons. The Blues have the talent, but lack the mental cohesion to consistently beat anyone. The Force on the other hand lack the talent. They can occasionally ambush a team of better players, but after a series of ambushes last year most teams have taken the Force more seriously this year not allowing them the wiggle room to scrape out those close wins.

It is arguable that it’s easier to watch your team lose like the Blues do, because if they “click” you are confident they can win more than they lose. But for a fan of the Force, where does that hope come from. Blind faith will only carry you so far.

The hardest part to swallow is that they have consistently dominated possession and territory, last weeks loss to the Chiefs having been the only game out of their last 6 where they haven’t. But with no game breakers they fail to score enough points to be competitive. It is frustrating in the extreme to watch your team have all of the ball and fail to do anything with it. But how do you get mad at the players when you know they have played to the best of their ability?

Clock is ticking for Michael Foley

Clock is ticking for Michael Foley

The Elephant in the Room

The question now has to start being asked. When does Michael Foley’s ongoing tenure come in for scrutiny? Now 3 and a 1/2 years in the head coaching role, the Force appear to have regressed from last year while playing a 7 year old game plan. The Force rather bravely re-signed Foley until the end of 2017 at the start of this year.

Unlike Richard Graham, injuries can’t be used as an excuse as the Force have had no more than could be reasonably expected in a regular Super Rugby season.

The Force were heavily criticized in 2013 for their one out runner attacking pattern. Their unexpected over achieving in 2014 quietened the rumblings but it is becoming apparent that playing their current game plan they are never going to score enough points to be consistent winners.

Another major weakness to my mind has been recruitment, especially in the marquee players. We have the ridiculous scenario where the Force went cap in hand to the ARU asking for more marquee players and then one of our main signings, Wilhelm Steenkamp didn’t even make the 23 until Wkyes was injured.

Having said that, Foley also has areas of the game he is coaching very well. With the set piece being very reliable. It would be unfair to not recognise that the team over achieves with the talent it has in the pack and his role in developing local talent.

Photo credit: Steve McLeod

Photo credit: Steve McLeod

A Level Playing Field

The old adage is that a “champion team will beat a team of champions”. But I think at the representative level this is less true. While undoubtedly no team is going to triumph without a solid team culture, once you have reached Super Rugby level, both attributes are required.

In that line of thought, the Force are missing Jayden Hayward more than most realise. His clutch goal kicking kept the Force in so many games last year and his form was electric.

So if the Force are to be more competitive they need to score more points. To achieve this they need two things, a more developed attacking game plan and the players to execute it. A major part of this improvement in attack can only come from the forwards. In modern rugby, the best attacking teams have seamless interplay between the forwards and backs.

The forwards have to off load, run attacking lines and offer support to the ball carrier. This is one area that the Force’s forwards need to improve drastically. They do the basic forward play such as hit ups and pick and drive well, it’s the looser aspects of play that they have been left behind in. This leaves the Force always manfully attacking the line head on and never managing to get in behind the line where the easy meters are made.

In the backs division, after the fanfare of their inception the Force have struggled to attract top talent or more importantly retain it. Sias Ebersohn and Zac Holmes both have strengths to their game, but neither have the complete skill set to unlock a back line. The Force need to desperately find a quality 10 to steer them around. From the existing backs, Godwin, Matthewson, Haylett Petty and Cummins are all quality players who the Force would be looking to retain going forward. Burton is also a quality player but his best position is still unknown. Priority must be on 10 and a big line bending 12.

godwin makes break for force v sharks

But the real issue to fans of the Force and Rebels is the lopsided ARU top up policy that allows all of the best talent to aggregate at the 3 traditional franchises. Conceivably the Waratahs players wage draw each week is likely more than the Force and Rebels combined. Fans of the traditional franchises claim they deserve to reap the rewards for the talent developed in their area, but this is short sighted and harms development in WA and Victoria to the detriment of all of Australian Rugby. If Australian Rugby is to combat the might of our SANZAR partners we need all of our rugby nurseries producing. It also goes against the prevailing wisdom of equitable distribution in modern Australian life, the GST carve up and the AFL draft being cases in point.

Going Forward

I believe the Force need to seek out for next year a world class attack coach. Even as a consultant if need be. Not necessarily Graham Henry, but someone with his gravitas would be ideal (I make this sound easy, which it clearly won’t be). This will help fix the two main issues above. It will help develop a more sophisticated attack and also provide a focal point for recruitment. Michael Foley seems like a fairly circumspect character. Hopefully he has the grace to recognise his area of weakness and seek the help he needs.

It’s been a tough 10 years with more lows than highs. The true fans hang in there and support the team because they play with heart, but it’s sobering how far the franchise has to go after the false dawn of 2014 to even be a contender.

 

  • John Tynan

    Thanks for the write up. I spent 6 yrs in WA, studying, working and playing rugby out in Kal, so the Force are my second team. Unfortunately it has to come down to coaching – Foley is a great forwards coach, but not much of a head coach IMO. Simply, it is a much too basic game plan, and there are no problems presented to opposition defences. I reckon the Force does have some decent cattle, but I am bemused by some of his selections. And it might be a bit of a cheap shot, but having a Saffa no.10 won’t help you set a backline free.

    • dane

      There needs to be a great coach there that can develop fringe talent. Take the melbourne storm for example. Their team is filled with stars, none of them home grown. However, none of the stars were bought, they have all been developed by good coaching and good recruitment of young players that are developed by the club.

  • Chinese Dave

    I don’t think the only thing the Force lack is talent, they’re also lacking a good game plan, and their talent isn’t that lacking either. Foley has the ability to make any team look like crap in attack, witness his Waratahs.
    I would love to see him bring in an attack coach, as his forwards coaching and mental influence are clearly good. But he’d have to be a very big man, and very confident in his position, to bring in someone with a name, as you suggest.

    • Paul R

      The brumbies had fisher and Larkham both coach the brumbies. It worked really well until fisher left understandably to get his on gig in England. Worth a shot I think. I think the board need to make it clear to foley his job is secure for however many seasons and add the backs coach. Brumbies fan wishing the force the best in coming seasons.

  • RobC

    Excellent review Scott, thank you.

    100% re attack coach. Something I’ve mentioned repeatedly about the force.

    imo Foley otherwise has done an excellent job. His form of tight forward orientation is the same applied by all Oz teams except the Reds. Considering their roster, its a good idea.

    Although, their scoreboard doesn’t show it, they are a much better team than last. Force are in the redzone a lot more than last. This is due to more attack variety from back 5 and back 3.

    Their main weakness is front row and midfield (including halves). Scrum has dropped, pick go not fast enough

    The halves cannot engineer attack nor command their backline. Their passing game, and set piece attack is failing them.

    The centres lack potency. I was hoping to see Junior Rasolea have more impact / game time.

    Because of all of this, as you mentioned, all their opponents have to do is counter harass the Force and keep the game in their half.

    Having said that, they have found ways to make it to the A zone. I like it how they are able to highway through the B zone, through some attack variety. But they need killer plays to score tries.

  • Aussie D

    The Force should try and get Phil Mooney as an attack coach. astounded that he has not got a job in Oz at Super rugby level.

    • SuckerForRed

      Every long term Red’s supporter just shuddered……….

  • Farthing

    The Force seem to have given up signing players from the Sydney and Brisbane grade comps in favor of unknown South Africans who go home as they turn out good enough to play Super Rugby. The Brumbies and Rebels have shown you can get a lot of solid players from those comps. They should sign Sam Lane as their 10 for a start.
    It was a mistake to pick Godwin as a 13. It may well be his best position but he is their best back and was looking good at 10 and 12. They could build the team around him from there.

  • SuckerForRed

    Would you like Dick back?

    Only joking. Wouldn’t inflict that on anyone.

    I agree with most of what you have said. Like others I am a little bemused by the continued selection of Godwin at 13. Particularly when Australian coaches insist on sticking to the ‘hard hitting 13′ game plan. Stick him in 12 and leave him there FFS.

    The lost of Mathewson for the last few weeks has really emphasised how much they rely on him to run the play.

    Having said those 2 things……. I am liking the look of DHP & Burton. Lots of development needed there though so maybe they need to look at some specific development coaching. Like the Reds have in bringing in Big Bad Brad for our young impressionable forwards.

  • Is an undermentioned factor that without piles of (what turned out to be dodgy) cash, it’s just bloody difficult to get anyone over there?

    I’m not just talking from a geolocation perspective, but now there’s a history of underachieving, who’s going to put their hand up to take a big punt?

  • Rob Hill

    The real difference between the Force Pack 2014 and the Force Pack 2015 is one man.

    Kieran Longbottom. He is the only regular starter we have lost in the pack. Yes he has been replaced by a Wallaby in Tetera Faulkner, but he kept Tets on the bench all year last year and they looked better in both the tight and the loose. How on earth he missed a Wallaby gig for so long that he decided to chase the money he needs to set up the post-rugby side of his life escapes me.

    As for the Backs, the biggest problem is the lack of any conceivable plan. Ewen McKenzie would be a great option as a consultant, because he’s a master at papering over the cracks. Look at the Qld gig he held, he managed to get them through to a title when they had essentially no forwards whatsoever….it didn’t last once the opposition figured this out, but it worked for a while. He did the same thing with the Wallabies, making the most of what they had and covering over what they didn’t…again short term gain, but at the moment I (and many other foundation Force fans) will take any gain!

    The decision making at 10 is poor and the kicking isn’t accurate enough to make up for that. I would leave Godwin at 12, rather than give him 10. He’s more of a threat with a little space and an attacking brief, as we saw last year. He’s proven that he can handle the tough work at 13, so I don’t mind that people will call him a small 12 (93 Kilos is hardly small anyway) We need a great 10 to unlock the potential we have in the backline and a coach to build a structure for him to use………

    Bloody hell, so many things to fix, but I agree the top-up has to go to enable us to compete on a level playing field.

  • Ryphon

    Thank you for mentioning the loss of Hayward. The first half of this season was all about Hodgson getting injured, but I think the loss of Hayward was massive having won the Force a few games in 2014 through individual effort alone. Missed kicks this year have cost the Force substantial points this season.

    I think the forwards are more or less fine, although I am not sure Wykes is really up to scratch with the competition. His intensity and involvement will have to lift with the likes of Steve Mafi and Adam Coleman contending for starting spots.

    I really like Sias Ebersohn, but he is prone to making errors far too often. A complete 10 for the Force is without a doubt a priority to fully utilise an otherwise decent backline. Then they’ll just need an actual gameplan.

  • Train Without A Station

    I think the Wallaby top up comment is a little bit of a cop out.

    Nobody thinks that the strongest states should get the benefit because they produce the most talent. They already get the benefit of the most young talent coming through to pick from. That’s the benefit they deserve and get for producing more talent.

    This Western Force have been the recipient of this Wallaby top up system in the past when they recruited Matt Giteau, Nathan Sharpe, Scott Farva, Drew Mitchell, Scott Staniforth, Ryan Cross, Matt Henjak and Selesi Ma’afu.

    These are all players that were Wallabies, and therefore likely on Wallaby top ups when the Force recruited them.

    The system is fully independent of parochial bias. Unfortunately for the Force though, players generally want to settle in their home state, so it creates difficulties with players not wanting to be at the Force due to geography, not rugby. Improving the rugby program will only change that though. The Rebels have developed a strong culture for a squad made up mostly of ex-pats who now feel a strong affinity with the city.

    • farva

      I guess the issue I have is that the principle behind the Force and the Rebels was to grow the game in non traditional states and that is certainly happening. Unfortunately, the way the ARU is set up with the central contracts system is that for the top players, the bulk of their income comes from the ARU, not the franchise. It means that the franchises have very little bargaining power in attracting top talent. Talent will then naturally gravitate to places based on standard of living, which often means where they grew up. Great for the players but not for spreading talent evenly amongst the franchises. And given that 80% or so of all players come from NSW and QLD, the Reds and Tahs get the first pick of top players. The Force and Rebels don’t have the funds to attract the players away due to the contracting system. I think the Rebels have done well by creating a great team atmosphere. The Force look to be trying to kick start a reliance on local talent. However, the fact remains that the best players come from the east due to weight of numbers and their first preference is to play locally if pay is reasonably similar wherever they are.

  • Ali

    I think that is a very big factor Matt. We are never going to attract the very best coaching or playing staff because we are too remote and our population too small for it to make sound business sense for the ARU to invest heavily in stacking the franchise with superstars like they do with the Waratahs. For as long as that stays the case, the Force will never achieve greatness imo. Much as it devastates me to say that!!

    • Mike

      The ARU didn’t “stack the Waratahs” with Matt Giteau, James O’Connor or David Pocock. Or a few others.

      • Nipper

        James O’Connor and David Pocock came over at about age 17, before they were stars. And Giteau came over to chase the dollar from Firepower – not from any ARU top-up or other shenanigans.

  • Boris

    They did well recruiting Coleman and Mafi who are now 2 of their standout players. But the recruiting in the backs has been very poor. We probably put too much emphasis on re-singing Cummins and missed out on any others. For example the Force signed Scott, Yamada, Nikora and Pat Dellit again for the outside backs. The rebels signed Mike Harris, Shipperley, Crawford and Placid. There is a massive difference there. Foley has to sign a top quality 10 and 12/13 this off season.

    • Who?

      But would you move to a club, as a back, to play under a Foley game plan..? I wouldn’t. Foley knows how to coach a scrum and front row, but he has no idea how to run an attack. And his history across multiple appointments shows exactly that.

  • Farva

    I think there is another aspect that you didnt touch on. This year they debuted 3 locals. Last year another 2. They picked up Holmes as opposed to a genuinely marquee 10. I think there has been a directive to get local players capped to justify their existence. Most of these guys are good but picked a year or two early. And its costing us.

    But i agree that Foley needs to concentrate on the forwards. We need a genuine 10 to get thr backs involved and a world class backs coach to get that backline working when they get involved.

    And i would suggest that right now the Reds are the worst team in the comp. They are bottom. Equally suggesting that being flogged by the Blues means they are well behind is a bit misleading. The Blues at Eden Park is different to the Blues away from Eden Park.

    The Force are down and there are some major issues to overcome but i think there is not much in it. And Ill support them regardless.

  • Graeme

    I disagree with the premise of this article, that the Forces problem is that they don’t score enough points. They have scored more points than both the Reds and the Rebels. They would have scored even more if they had a decent kicker. They managed to score four tries in losing, for a second game in a row I think.

    Their problem is defense. I don’t know what has happened since last year, when their defense was one of the things that kept them in games. What they really need to address is defensive coach. I think Foley has done pretty with what he has been given, the Force are not a star laden side like the Reds. With a good goal kicker and a half average defense, they could have had quite a decent year this year. But unfortunately they don’t have either, and that should be their priority in recruitment.

Rugby

Growing up in regional WA, Rugby was a mythical beast. A mystery in my child mind to rival the Bermuda Triangle. The 2003 World Cup opened my eyes. The inclusion of the Force in 2006 ignited my passion for the game.

More in Rugby