Why 2012 was the nadir of the Western Force
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The 2012 season was the nadir of the Western Force. NIB Stadium was a ruin of rickety scaffold stands with portable toilets, appalling food and drink, and no members bar.
Marquee player Willie Rippia was sent packing for stealing from teammates and Napolioni Nalaga missed half the season with injury.
Coach Richard Graham was sacked mid-season after signing a contract with bitter rivals Queensland Reds.
Star recruit Will Genia reneged on a verbal contract, legendary player and inaugural captain Nathan Sharpe retired, and great player and captain David Pocock left for the Brumbies.
After comprehensively defeating a shell-shocked Reds in Round 6, the team won only one of its last 10 games (against the lowly Lions), and were playing disjointed, boring and stupid kicking rugby that left even stalwart supporters exasperated, a far cry from the star-studded entertaining and enterprising play of 2007 to 2009.
Could it get any worse? Indeed, the long drawn out selection process of securing a top coach went horribly wrong when Michael Cheika turned down a contract offer and left the franchise in disarray and fans deeply concerned for its future.
And then the bombshell, the appointment of Michael Foley, fresh from coaching the Waratahs annus horribilis.
The only saving grace amongst all this gloom was the recruitment of Sias Ebersohn from the Cheetahs to fill the problematic flyhalf, and the re-signing of stalwart players Matt Hodgson, Ben McCalman, Richard Brown and Brett Sheehan, all showing great character in a major statement of intent for the future.
Out of nowhere came the first signs of rejuvenation. The board started talking about a “relaunch”.
Upon arrival Foley immediately said he was not interested in quick fixes and band-aid solutions, but was employed to build from scratch a sustainable professional rugby program from the ground up, and to put in place the right staff and players to achieve that goal.
He started talking about introducing an attractive expansive attacking style that players want to play and WA fans (who thrive on this style in all their sport) want to watch, and future prospects will want to join. What? This doesn’t sound like the 2012 Waratahs!
To the delight of all incredulous supporters, Foley appointed support staff that exactly complimented those grand aspirations: Steve Meehan as attack and backs coach, immensely respected for transforming the Bath backline into a feared, threatening, integrated attacking force.
Chook Fowler from hated rivals Reds as strategic planner.
David Joyce as Head of Athletic Performance to design and implement co-ordinated tailor made athletic programs.
South African Dave Wessels as defence co-ordinator, and GM Chris Webb to revolutionise and professionalise the rugby department.
After martinet John Mitchell and inexperienced Richard Graham, the Force had never seen anything like it, the best possible quality people in all positions working together in a coordinated professional plan specifically designed for sustainable success rather than instant gratification.
Then came the rejuvenation of the playing group. To implement and achieve a revolution in playing style and strategy, it necessitated a large turnover and recruitment of different types of players.
Players of character who wanted to be involved at the Force for the right reasons, not mercenaries looking for a huge pay packet or prima donnas looking to stroke their ego, or pensioners looking for a retirement package. Hungry skillful players with something to prove to themselves and doubters.
Alby Mathewson, an experienced and high quality 9 from Blues, Jayden Hayward an skilful 12 with some experienced at ‘Canes, the very experienced and skillful duo of utility back Sam Norton Knight and loose forward Hugh McMeniman wanting a return to Super Rugby after stints overseas, back rower Chris Alcock wanting to re-establish himself, and centres Chris Tuatara-Morrison seeking a second chance in professional rugby and Junior Rasolea wanting to break into rugby from Sevens.
So out of the ashes of despair of season 2012 comes a new sense of hope for 2013 and beyond, not based on hot air and desperation but finally on something solid, something tangible, the foundations of a real Force to be reckoned with thanks largely to the unfairly derided Foley and his assistants.
A new roofed stadium with professional facilities, a professional rugby department, an integrated coordinated coaching plan with quality staff, a revamped backline selected to play a new exciting attacking style, and the existing strength of the forward pack under Nick Stiles complimented with 3M and Chris Alcock to cover departed Sharpie and Pocock, and the beginnings of player depth, especially in the halves, with nine capped Wallabies.
And most importantly, the hugely admired and respected Matt Hodgson as club captain, twice the Force Player of the Year, who exudes the necessary qualities of character and strength to unify the new playing group with the new structures and schemes.
This total transformation has been stunning and a delight to behold; the players appear happy and enthusiastic.
I am the first to admit I was wrong to be aghast at the appointment of Foley. But I have nothing but admiration for Foley and his team for undertaking such a task and seeking to turn around the long-term fortunes of the Western Force.
The first order of business is to make NIB stadium (with hopefully the newly named Sharpe End stand) a veritable “Force field”, where visiting teams starting or ending long arduous tours fear to play.
The Force have the distinction of home and away winning percentages being equal; they just need to win at home to succour the long suffering but faithful Sea of Blue supporters.
They have also beaten every team in the competition, have won well in both South Africa and New Zealand, and have beaten all Australian teams away. Write them off at your peril.
Game day forwards:
Front row: 1 Longbottom, 2 Charles, 3 Cowan with experienced Maafu and maturing Manu.
Locks: 4 Wykes, 5 Lynn with returning 3M.
Backrow: 6 Brown, 8 McCalman, 7 Hodgson with experienced Alcock and maturing McCaffrey.
Game day backs:
Halves: 9 Mathewson, 10 Ebersohn are new halves combo with developing Kyle Godwin and experienced Sheehan.
Centres: 12 Hayward, 13 Tupou with Tuatara-Morrison and Rasolea.
Outside: 11 Dellit, 14 Cummins, 15 Mafi with experienced SNK and raw Stubbs (I will slip in here the size of the backs, these guys are huge; almost all well over 6′ and 100kg).
Players to watch: Tuatara-Morrison, 3M, McCaffrey plus Godwin as a future Wallaby 10.