What’s going on with the Force?

Scott Allen Columnist

By Scott Allen, Scott Allen is a Roar Expert

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    Heath Tessmann of the Western Force. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

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    Like many others I wasn’t expecting much from the Western Force in 2014. I know a number of the Force players through involvement with them in Brisbane club rugby, so was still keen to see them do well.

    After their first two Super Rugby matches against the Waratahs and Brumbies, I was convinced they’d struggle to win more than a couple of matches this season. But I don’t like writing negative articles, so I ignored them to a certain extent.

    On an episode of The Roar Rugby Show I even asked my guests whether they thought Michael Foley would make it to the end of the season as coach.

    The way they played against the Rebels made me sit up and take notice, but I thought the performance was probably a one off and that the Rebels’ poor performance had a lot to do with the result.

    I expected they’d go down to Dunedin and compete against the Highlanders but not quite get the result. Imagine my surprise when they held on for a gutsy win after two late yellow cards. I was impressed, but still doubtful.

    Despite two wins in a row, I couldn’t believe the Force could roll the undefeated defending champions last week. Like many Australian rugby fans I sat on my couch last weekend as the match against the Chiefs drew to a conclusion, cheering on the Force in the hope they could finish the job.

    It was a great victory, their third in a row – the first time they’ve achieved that feat since 2007. The beauty of those three matches is that the Force have played really well, rather than limping home against teams playing really poorly.

    Today, I’m happy to be writing a positive article about the Force. So what’s been the difference over the past three matches compared to the first two of the season?

    The first match against the Waratahs was an afternoon match in Sydney and the Tahs were in very good form. The Force started slowly and were always on the back foot, conceding six tries to the two they scored.

    I wonder whether the Force’s pre-season trial match program left them under-prepared for this first match. They played Samoa A and the Pampas XV from Argentina and romped in both matches, which doesn’t sound like the best preparation for the intensity of Super Rugby.

    In their second match they took on the Brumbies at home. By half-time they were down 24-0 and with just 10 minutes remaining still trailed 27-0. Two late tries made the score look respectable, and in hindsight that second half performance was when we started seeing some real fight from the Force – they at least stopped the Brumbies from running away with the match.

    Has it been a change of tactics, players or attitude since half-time in the match against the Brumbies that has made the difference? Or were those first three halves of rugby in 2014 the aberration?

    The only significant change in personnel has been Sias Ebersohn taking over at fly-half at half-time against the Brumbies after Zack Holmes had started the first two matches. I don’t think Ebersohn has played that well this season, so I don’t think he’s the answer.

    I haven’t seen any real change in tactics or noticed the Force doing anything so well that I can point to an area of their game that has improved dramatically.

    There is one factor that has been noticeable, however, and that’s the form and leadership of the Force captain Matt Hodgson. At nearly 33 years of age and having just passed 100 matches for the Force, his experience and leadership are vital for the team.

    As a leader he often seems to be dragging his teammates forward through sheer willpower. As a player, he’s in great form at the moment.

    With Hodgson providing the inspiration for his team, the most noticeable difference I’ve seen from the Force has been their spirit. They obviously believe and they are playing as a cohesive unit, making commentators – including me – think again.

    While all the talk before the season started was about Kyle Godwin being on the Wallabies radar, I’ve not seen much mention of him lately and I don’t think his performances so far this season have been anything special.

    Is Hodgson forcing his way into Wallabies contention? His age shouldn’t count against him, but coach Ewen McKenzie may want to keep focusing on the younger options at open-side flanker who will be a big part of plans for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

    The Force currently sit in seventh place on the competition table with 14 points. They’re currently third in the Australian conference, just two points behind the Waratahs and three behind the Brumbies but four points clear of the Reds.

    How far can they go this season? I have no idea. Despite what I’ve seen over the last month I’m still not sure what to make of them. However, there is no doubt that they are not the easy beats that many of us believed them to be early in the season.

    It’s a great turnaround and it’s good for Australian rugby. Let’s hope they can keep going and that the Rebels start fulfilling their promise, too.

    Scott Allen
    Scott Allen

    Scott has been a rugby contributor with The Roar since 2013. After taking some time out to pursue other roles in the game, including coaching Premier Grade with University of Queensland and the Wallaroos at the recent World Cup, he’s returned to give us his insights. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottA_ to hear more from him.

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    The Crowd Says (103)

    • March 26th 2014 @ 2:50am
      Bobbo7 said | March 26th 2014 @ 2:50am | ! Report

      Good to see the Force going well for the long suffering fans. They played with a ton of heart last week though I thought the Chiefs got the wrong end of the whistle in the last 20 minutes. But was good to see the Force get up.

    • March 26th 2014 @ 2:57am
      Johnno said | March 26th 2014 @ 2:57am | ! Report

      A few good wins for the Force.

      2 at home, and 1 away on the road vs the Force bogey team the Highlanders who have a poor record vs the Force.

      -1 win vs the struggling rebels, and the chiefs at home, good start but alot more to do.
      -Sadly for the Western Force, they have a terrible draw the worst in the comp. Lots of travel ahead, the boys will get tired.
      -Still think Western Force and the Rebels would do better if they were allowed 5 foreign imports, not just developmental imports who are eligble to maybe represent OZ one day.
      -5 Albe Mathewson(NZ) standard foreign imports for the western force would be good, they would do even better. And for those who don’t support foreign imports in OZ super rugby sides, ask yourself should the ARU put the wallabies and developing locals at the western force no 1 ahead of winning results and not allow a foreign import like Albe Mathewson(NZ) block the way of a promising aussy local, which is exactly what Albe Mathewson is doing. He is blocking the path of a local getting a spot. If you are not happy about that you wouldn’t want the western force to be allowed to have Albe Mathewson signed at the western force. I support the fact that Albe Mathewson as a foreign import is blocking the pathway of an aussy local, as he is helping the western force win games, and making them a stronger team, despite the fact that he is blocking the pathway of talented aussy local players, he is better option right now to help the western force win games, which should be the no 1 focus, not developing talented halfbacks in the future for the wallabies.
      The wins bring in the revenue,which means money can be spent on junior-pathways, the NRC. Western force fans would prefer Albe Mathewson stay at the western force and help them win games knowing full-well he is blocking the pathway of a local halfback to the starting team, than lose games with the less talented local at half-back if a survey was done today.

      • March 26th 2014 @ 8:06am
        Daveski said | March 26th 2014 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        You went off like a right goose after they lost to the Tahs Johnno.,,. ARU conspiracy and how it was a disgrace such a weak side was allowed to happen…. You must feel pretty silly right now…

        • March 26th 2014 @ 7:42pm
          Johnno said | March 26th 2014 @ 7:42pm | ! Report

          you still haven’t answred the the post about more foreign imports for the western force Daveski. Im saying i want the force to have a higher standard side. Are you saying you put the wallabies first, and super rugby teams 2nd. And SR is development tool for the wallabies, not about producing the absoloute highest possible standard club sides like the EPL, which is about unlimited foreigin imports or local just picking the absolute best side that the team can financially afford. Are you a fan who is wallabies no 1, and super rugby excellence no 2, when push comes to shove. The EPL doesn’t make the England soccer team a priority.

    • Roar Guru

      March 26th 2014 @ 3:14am
      biltongbek said | March 26th 2014 @ 3:14am | ! Report

      Whatever the Force is doing they need to keep the momentum going, often teams lose that momentum and then it is pretty tough to get it back.

      I think Ebersohn has just been doing the bascis well enough, but agree he is not oikely to have a “quade” type performance.

      Long way to go though.

      • Columnist

        March 28th 2014 @ 8:18am
        Scott Allen said | March 28th 2014 @ 8:18am | ! Report

        Not the best time for a bye this week for the Force – could rob them of some momentum?

    • March 26th 2014 @ 4:20am
      Crazy Horse said | March 26th 2014 @ 4:20am | ! Report

      You are completely right about the Force’s trial matches Scott.They were against sides that any of the leading Premier Grade sides would be competitive against. A complete joke. The ARU must see to it that all 5 sides get decent pre-season trials in future.

      So the Waratahs and Brumbies matches were effectively the Force’s trials. The first time combinations had been tried against serious competition.

      They got it horribly wrong in the tahs match and for most of the Brumbies match. It was only When the bench players came on in he second half of the Brumbies match that the team clicked. I don’t think it was any coincidence that the turn around strated when Pek Cowan came on.

      Hodson is an inspiration. One of the great leaders of Australian Rugby as well as the standout 7 so far this season, his leadership could provided something missing from the Wallabies since Sharpie retired.

      Then there’s McCalman. Enough said.

      Godwin has been rather busy in defence covering for Rasolea at 13 who thankfully is getting better in defence. Godwin may not have been a standout but he’s been there in attack and defence throughout. You’ll see a lot more of him as the season progresses.

      Sam Wykes is back to the form that had him on the edge of Wallabies selection a couple of years ago before a season ending injury.

      The developing locals you desire Johnno are on the way. Six of them to be precise in the main squad. Everyone knows about Kieran Longbottom, Kyle Godwin and Zac Holmes. There is also Ryan Lourwens (9), Like Burton (10), and Dale Haylett-Petty (15). You’ll be seeing more of these talented youngsters as they mature.

      There are more in the extended playing squad and truckloads in the Under 20s, Academy amd Junior Representaive sides.

      • March 26th 2014 @ 6:05am
        Justin3 said | March 26th 2014 @ 6:05am | ! Report

        I would think it is up to the force to organise their trials. No other teams had issues, was it Foleys idea?

      • Columnist

        March 26th 2014 @ 8:28am
        Scott Allen said | March 26th 2014 @ 8:28am | ! Report

        The ARU don’t organise trials – that’s up to the Force to organise.

        • March 27th 2014 @ 4:12pm
          Sheikh said | March 27th 2014 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

          Correct that the ARU don’t organise trials, but from talking to some in the Rugby WA set-up, it’s my understanding that the Force have invited other Australian super rugby teams to Perth a number of times in recent years and been turned down (too far to come, apparently).

          The Force have also requested trial matches with other teams over East, but been turned down because the Force asked for a share of the gate or travel expenses. They did play the Brumbies in Darwin, but each side had to pay their own travel costs while the Brumbies got the gate receipts (they did organise the match).

          So the Force have tried to organise trials but have been turned down, meaning they have to play teams like Samoa A and the Pampas XV – they are the only teams who’ve agreed.

          If the ARU told the SR teams they had to play each other in pre-season with guidelines over who covers costs of travel and gets gates, that’d even things up.

      • March 26th 2014 @ 9:48am
        Selector said | March 26th 2014 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        Agree about Burton. Really enjoyed watching him in the under 20’s.
        In a year or two I would love to see the Godwin 10, burton 12 combo. That could be something special

      • March 26th 2014 @ 8:59pm
        Doug said | March 26th 2014 @ 8:59pm | ! Report

        don’t forget Ollie Hoskins

      • March 26th 2014 @ 8:59pm
        Doug said | March 26th 2014 @ 8:59pm | ! Report

        don’t forget Ollie Hoskins also local

    • March 26th 2014 @ 4:28am
      maxxlord said | March 26th 2014 @ 4:28am | ! Report

      The force are scoring more points than their opposition.

    • Roar Guru

      March 26th 2014 @ 5:44am
      Eddard said | March 26th 2014 @ 5:44am | ! Report

      Would be great to see the Force continue with this form and make the finals. Their fans are among the most loyal in the competition. Their reaction to the win against the Chiefs was fantastic.

      I think you’re being a little harsh on the Pampas. They lost to the Force 29-6…not too bad given it was their first match together!

      That side then went through the Pacific Nations Cup undefeated, including a victory over a pretty strong Waratahs A team that had a lot of super rugby experienced players in it (as it coincided with the Waratahs bye week).

      • Columnist

        March 28th 2014 @ 8:21am
        Scott Allen said | March 28th 2014 @ 8:21am | ! Report

        Having watched the Pampas XV play in the final of the Pacific Cup I agree they’re a good team but not close enough to Super Rugby standard to provide the tough warm up needed before the season.

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