Western Force captain Nathan Sharpe believes his team’s underrated scrum could attack the Bulls’ set piece strength when the two teams meet in a Super 14 crunch match in Pretoria on Saturday.
Rugby 365 reports that while the scrum has been seen as a Force weakness, the men from Perth believe they have shown enough in recent weeks to take on the gargantuan pack from Pretoria in their first match of a two-week tour in the Republic.
It was in their record 55-14 win over the Lions last Friday that the Force front row showed they can also dominate against the bigger South African packs.
“It was good work from our front row and they are progressing each week,” Sharpe said.
“This coming week we are back down to earth and have a big game against the Bulls in Pretoria. It’s a challenge we are looking forward to,” he added.
The Force captain admitted that the Bulls will be a step up, but remains confident his team have what it takes to secure a win in Pretoria and enhance their play-off hopes.
“The Lions and Bulls are two completely different sides and you can’t play each side the same each week and expect to get away with it.
“We’ve already thought about how we can attack the Bulls and they are a good set piece team who love to kick and gain field position.
“We have three games to get to the finals and we’ll regroup to get over the high of the performance [against the Lions] with the reality being we have three hard matches to finish the season.”
Coach John Mitchell also backed his pack to outmuscle the men from Pretoria.
While the star-studded Force backline revelled in the eight-try rout of the Lions, Mitchell said it is the hard work done up front that set up the win.
“The backline is only as good as the forward pack, and ours is pretty underrated,” Mitchell said, adding: “They are providing a fantastic platform at the minute which our backs are feeding off.
“Our scrum has been progressing all year and it’s a key area. With a good scrum you can get to the advantage line quickly and certainly we are doing that.
“There’s good experience in there. Tai has huge experience, Nathan [Sharpe] has come from the Wallabies who have made huge progression in the scrum along with Ben Castle’s experience. The guys are buying right into it and the loose forwards really own the scrum also.”
The Australian franchise also take heart from the fact that their only previous visit to Pretoria was a victorious one – when they beat the Bulls 30-27 in 2007.
“We enjoy traveling to South Africa, the pressure is on everyone that remains in contention in the competition and it doesn’t matter if you have home advantage or not,” Mitchell said.
“We do have deposits of belief in going to South Africa as we’ve been successful there before so we will get back into work on Monday to focus on specifically what we need to do to try to get the right performance.”
* Meanwhile the Western Force halted the exodus of top players with the important re-signing of prop Pek Cowan for the next two Super 14 seasons.
Cowan has been a revelation for the Force this season, combining with fellow prop Ben Castle and hooker Tai McIsaac to create a formidable front row.
New Zealand-born Cowan made his Super 14 debut for the Force in 2006 but failed to break into the side in ’07.
However, the 22-year-old, who weighs in at 116kg, has been a regular for the past two seasons, notching 19 appearances.
The retention of Cowan is a massive boost for the Force, who were dealt a blow last week when star back Drew Mitchell confirmed he would be switching to the Waratahs next season.
Mitchell isn’t the only one flying the coop at season’s end, with Matt Giteau (Brumbies), Scott Staniforth (Japan), McIsaac (Japan), Tamaiti Horua (Ulster) and Castle also set to leave.
The future of 18-year-old James O’Connor and No.8 Richard Brown is still up in the air.
RugbyWA General Manager, Rugby, Mitch Hardy, said Cowan’s signing will ensure the development of the young Western Force front row continues into the forthcoming seasons.
“We’ve had a very stable front row this season and Pek has certainly stepped up and made the loosehead prop position his own,” said Hardy.
“What’s been most encouraging is that he’s continued on from a very impressive 2008 and still has a lot of physical development and rugby development ahead of him.
“Quality props are a rare commodity in Australian rugby and Pek has proven that he has an incredibly bright future at this level.”Tweet