Seven games. Seven defeats.
Not the return to Super Rugby that many hoped for the Western Force.
I’ll admit, I expected better from the men from Perth, but in retrospect have they performed as expected?
Not even the most ardent Sea of Blue member expected the Force to take Super Rugby AU by storm, top the table and dominate their Australian colleagues. They came out the traps of their first couple of games, catching both the Waratahs and Reds by surprise before succumbing to defeats without clinching losing bonus points.
Of all their fixtures they were unlucky against the Rebels (20-25), but the inability to get in to double figures in three of their seven games is an unfortunate statistic.
There has been some light among the darkness of weekly defeats. The game management of Jono Lance, honed from a stint in Europe, has been welcome, as has the variety and kicking quality of Ian Prior. There has been a noticeable drop in overall quality when either of these two have been injured or out of the team.
Kyle Godwin looks to have learnt a good deal from playing at Connacht, mixing up his game to good effect. Jack McGregor should clearly be the team’s starting fullback, providing a secondary play-making option along with a decent running game.
I had been championing him as a potential Wallabies ten if given a consistent run there in Super Rugby, but his performances have made me re-think this and a future in the 15 jersey is his. That may reduce his chances of Wallaby gold, but that ability to play ten could help clinch one of the 21-23 jerseys.
Not much needs to be said about Byron Ralston. The boy has wheels and knows where the try line is. Although his defence is strong it can be easily worked on with some quality coaching. Maybe he should ask for some advice from hard-hitting Samoan international Henry Taefu, who has been a solid if not spectacular performer in the midfield.
That’s the backs, but what of the forwards?
There have been some stand-out performers among the small numbers. Fergus Lee-Warner has shown strong carrying and tough tackling in every game. Kieran Longbottom, much like Lance, has demonstrated what he’s learnt from his career up north. And back-row players Brynard Stander, Henry Stowers and Kane Koteka have all shown flashes of quality that could become more frequent by consistently competing and this level. Stander and Stowers in particular seem to have that happy knack of being in the right place at the right time. I would love to seem them more frequently.
So it’s not all been smooth for the men from WA. Being on the road throughout the tournament has undoubtedly worked against them, and the years of playing Global Rapid Rugby has meant that standards have dropped slightly. But aside from the hiding provided by the Queensland Reds at Cbus Super Stadium, there are positives that can be taken from performances.
Whatever the future for Super Rugby is, Rugby AU need to bring the Force back in to the fold permanently to make rugby union and truly national sport. Compromise will have to be made on both sides: private equity from Twiggy may have to continue, and people will say that Australian rugby doesn’t have the depth for five teams, but unless opportunities are there how can you grow depth?
Five professional teams able to offer contracts to the best young players is better than four. The key will be for the Force, like their brothers in the east, to configure clear pathways for these players to fulfill their potential, rather than sitting in rugby league, looking to return to union at 24 or 25.