The Western Force are the Australian rock band Eskimo Joe. They are from Western Australia, started out a bit scratchy, got really flashy for a while, then settled into that comfortable cousin status.
Eskimo Joe took a little while to get going on the big stage with their first album not registering in a big way across the country. For their inaugural season the Force managed to poach the rising star Matt Giteau, but didn’t play too well.
‘A Song is a City’ on EJ’s second album reached number two on the charts. The Force was more competitive than ever in year three and started challenging the good teams.
Then came ‘Black Fingernails, Red Wine’, a massive hit that won ARIAs and is one of the best songs of the last decade. It really put the Eskimoes on the map. The Force signed James O’Connor to go with Giteau, giving people reason to think they were really going places.
Since then Eskimo Joe and the Force have settled back. We all know they are there, but only remember to pay them any attention every once in a while.
I like the Force. They are plucky; they fight hard and are one of the teams that have traditionally been hard to close out, right until the 80th minute. They never cause me to turn off a telecast, but at the same time haven’t really played too many games I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Sam Wykes is a player to watch going into the 2012 Super Rugby season. He was named the captain of the Force squad that went on an end of season tour last year. He is being given a bigger leadership role within the team by the staff and has been consistently improving.
He would have considered himself unlucky to not get more of a look in with the 137 new Wallabies caps Robbie Deans has given out in the last couple of years. He will want to prove his point this year.
The real weak point in the team this year will be the halves. They don’t really have anyone of class in those positions since O’Connor was allowed to take his talents to Melbourne.
A certain amount of credit should be given to the Force for making that tough decision. Without being inside the situation, it certainly looked as though O’Connor had a very American athlete-esque list of requirements to agree to stay in the smaller market.
He clearly wanted to have a position of power, and management thought it best to let him go rather than risk putting one player above the rest of the player group.
Instead, Ben Seymour and Kyle Godwin are the players listed to play fly-half on the Force roster.
I’m not hearing many bells ringing out there as those names hit home. I can’t really comment on those players much more than to say that I’d predict they’ll play better than expectations. They are going to overachieve because we haven’t got much expectation at all.
Winston Stanley, shunted from the Blues and picked up by the Force, could be a good acquisition. He may take on some playmaking abilities from number 12 if he settles into the team. He debuted for the Blues in 2009 so has good experience but is young enough to improve.
There are two sides to the Kiwi import story: The Willie Ripia experience from last year doesn’t bode well for Kiwis bedding down quickly at the Force but Mike Harris shows that a good buy can quickly turn into a killer bargain.
James Stannard (who may get time at 10) and Justin Turner are both works in progress at scrum half for this level. With the ceiling for improvement very high the play can only improve as the season wears on for the Force in those crucial positions.
If the halves direct play well I think the Force really do have some great ball-runners out wide to make hay. Nick Cummins, Patrick Dellit, Cameron Shepherd and Rory Sidey all run the ball very straight and hard. That always works well. Gene Fairbanks may provide some spark off the bench also.
The engine room of every rugby team is the back-row. We all know that. And the Force have arguably the best back-row combination of any Australian team. They boast David Pocock (new captain), Matt Hodgson, Richard Brown and Ben McCalman.
The problem is that besides that back-row the Western Force will be outclassed at almost every position, on every night. The back-row can keep things close all by itself, but that won’t be enough to beat any really good teams on a consistent basis.
Australian Conference: fourth
Overall: Making up the numbers