The Western Force endured the most unstable pre-season build-up of all the teams. Even back in November and December last year all the headlines were about infighting and a player revolt against coach John Mitchell.
It has not made for a stable environment and despite all the protestations from leading players – like captain Nathan Sharpe – it will have had an affect on the team’s preparations.
While the force initially made great strides, following their entry into Super Rugby in 2006, it all appears to have gone pear-shaped in Perth.
At the time of writing this preview, the report – following the decision by Rugby West Australia to launch an enquiry into the sad, sorry saga – has not been released. That meant a cloud of uncertainty continued to hover over the Perth-based franchise and that same uncertainty will continue to haunt them going into the season.
If they do manage to gel and get the season underway with a few wins, it will be a spectacular recovery – but a couple of defeats will see them slip further into the mire of madness that have enveloped Perth in recent months.
Strengths: They have wonderful attacking options, in fact it is quite a glorious backline. When they are on song they have the potential to be absolutely devastating. The team just needs to gel. The support they enjoy in a state – Western Australia – with a proud sporting culture can be a tremendous boost for the team.
Weakness: There are far too many political and financial scandals within the franchise itself. It can only be distracting for the players and coaching staff – some of whom are directly involved – and will destroy the team ethos if the matter is not resolved timeously.
Noteworthy signings: Josh Valentine (from the Waratahs), Richard Stanford (Brumbies), Chris O’Young (joined them mid-season in 2008 – after the Matt Henjak saga)
Noteworthy losses: Scott Fardy (back to Sydney), Scott Fava (Waratahs), Matt Henjak (contract cancelled – move to Toulon), James Hilgendorf (Japan), Lachlan MacKay (Brive), Angus Scott (retired), James Stannard (Brumbies)
Coach: John Mitchell has been under fire in recent months for his player-management skills and it has tarnished the reputation of a coach with outstanding expertise and knowledge. The former All Black coach – the second most successful Test mentor in the past decade – has worked extensively abroad and has a lot to offer to his team in the way of ideas. He hasn’t quite achieved with the Force just yet.
Captain: Nathan Sharpe is one of the greatest servants of the Australian game, without a shadow of a doubt. The man has tremendous experience and extraordinary leadership qualities. Leadership is one area where all the Australian teams are particularly strong and the Force are no different.
Player(s) to watch: Matt Giteau has been in the news for reasons other than his rugby playing ability – reports linking him to the player revolt and a possible return to the Brumbies. Now the spotlight will be on him to see how committed he is to the Force’s cause. He has loads of experience to accompany his great speed and finesse.
2008 Position: 8th
Best finish: 7th in 2007
Worst finish: 14th in 2006
Home Venue: Subiaco Oval, home (capacity: 43 500)
2009 Prediction: The Western Force have great individual talent, but the pre-season problems are likely to impact on the team’s form and we expect them to really struggle. They will again finish in the bottom half and may well be back in last place where they were in 2006.
Western Force squad: Ryan Cross, Nick Cummins, Scott Daruda, Dane Haylett-Petty, Matt Giteau, James O’Connor, Chris O’Young, Drew Mitchell, Junior Pelesasa, Haig Sare, Cameron Shepherd, Scott Staniforth, Josh Tatupu, Josh Valentine, Richard Brown, Pekahou Cowan, Gareth Hardy, Tom Hockings, Matt Hodgson, Luke Holmes, Tamaiti Horua, David Pocock, Kieran Longbottom, Tai McIsaac, Pat O’Connor, David Pusey, Nathan Sharpe, Richard Stanford, Troy Takiari, AJ Whalley, Sam Wykes.
Friday, February 13: v Blues, home
Friday, February 20: v Cheetahs, home
Saturday, February 28: v Brumbies, away
Friday, March 6: v Chiefs, away
Saturday, March 14: v Crusaders, away
Saturday, March 21: v Sharks, home
Friday, April 3: v Reds, home
Friday, April 10: v Hurricanes, home
Saturday, April 18: v Waratahs, away
Friday, April 24: v Lions, home
Saturday, April 2: v Bulls, away
Saturday, April 9: v Stormers, away
Saturday, April 16: v Highlanders, home
Courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet