Questionable off-field antics has been matched with brilliance on the field.
Greg Gowden writes for RugbyHeaven that for some time now, the Western Force have been going on about how everyone in Australian rugby either neglects them or is suspicious about what they’re up to.
From the west come regular cries that the ARU and the other three provinces are out to get them, and that they are victims of an elaborate conspiracy involving sections of the “eastern media”.
Their complaints bear little relation to reality and are pushed along by several Force officials intoxicated by their status as big fish in a very small local pond.
The arrogance displayed by the Force in their initial pursuit of players has not been forgotten by the Waratahs, Brumbies and Reds, and the scars remain.
But their sense of paranoia has worked in banding together an isolated team – to the extent that this season, the rest have had to take serious notice of what is going on in Perth and even study them for hints so that they don’t fall far behind them.
The Force’s off-field behaviour has been open to question, with the quokka shocker and events leading up to Matt Henjak’s sacking dragging the club’s name through the mud, as have certain third-party player deals.
Not so on the field, where their performances have been exemplary to the extent that they are easily Australia’s best chance – and maybe only one – of making the Super 14 finals.
That they are in such a position just two seasons after finishing last in the tournament is a tribute to their coach, John Mitchell, and a credit to his players.
This season, they have been by far Australia’s most entertaining province, quickly grasping the virtues of the experimental law variations and attempting to get into the faces of their opponents.
While the Waratahs seem to have forgotten they have a back line, the Brumbies have been hamstrung by a horrendous injury list which has turned their line-up into a glorified creche and the Reds still don’t have a clue, the Force have worked out they are most dangerous when keeping the ball in hand and, in the finest Australian tradition, decide to have a go.
They tried to out-Crusader the Crusaders a few weeks ago by launching repeated counterattacks from midfield, and it almost worked. Elsewhere, it has. Taking any opportunity which has come their way has helped them beat four teams on the road – the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, the Lions in Johannesburg, the Blues in Auckland and, on Saturday, the Highlanders in Queenstown.
Five of their last seven games are at home, and a finals spot is a distinct possibility.
Admittedly, much hinges on their playmaker, Matt Giteau, remaining injury-free. If Giteau is sidelined, the Force are history. Similarly, if Ryan Cross, Drew Mitchell, Scott Staniforth or Cameron Shepherd drop out out of the side, the Force will struggle, because the back-up is not first-rate.
We must hope that the Force medical team is not called upon too much, because these fine attacking players, if they remain on the field, will continue to provide the impetus to stay in touch with the Super 14 leaders.
Being on Force watch is also much more rousing than following the Waratahs, who, against the Crusaders, did their usual trick of forgetting they had an attack, played one out, and kicked, kicked, kicked as if they were wearing flip-flops.
Was there actually one NSW attacking movement in Christchurch? Is this a team, or a bunch of individuals? Who actually are the NSW centres?
What is most exasperating is that those in the west, who love to highlight every frailty on offer elsewhere in Australian rugby, are enjoying all this and preparing to join together in one big chorus line to scream: “Stick that up ya.”Tweet