Super Rugby Preview: Force

Date published: February 16 2016

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Before the start of Super Rugby 2016 we take a closer look at each of the sides in the competition. Next up, the Force.

The men from Perth have blown hot and cold over recent Super Rugby campaigns and know that after a disappointing 2015, the only way is up.

2016's format means they travel to South Africa for just one game (Cheetahs) and to Japan to play the Sunwolves. Other than that they will be in Australasia, keen to give their local rivals a few headaches. Judging from the squad on paper though, wins will be hard to come by.

Last Year: Michael Foley's side had a terrible season in 2015 as they finished dead last on 19 points after just three wins were secured. While that might look all doom and gloom, it's worth noting that they weren't brushed aside in the majority of their fixtures and in fact they finished with 384 points conceded, which works out at 24 per game. Going the other way, the Force scored 245 points in their 19 outings.

Ben McCalman was their stand-out player, making the sixth most carries in the competition (173), but the team couldn't recapture the form that saw them finish in an impressive eighth position in 2014, when their spine of Nathan Charles, McCalman and Alby Mathewson stood out.

The Force began the season with a win at the reigning champions, beating the Waratahs 25-13, but then ten straight losses derailed their year, with their next win coming against the same opposition in Perth. Three defeats followed before they finished by beating the Rebels.

This Year: Losing lock pair Sam Wykes and Wilhelm Steenkamp is a blow but the arrivals of Peter Grant, Ben Tapuai, Jono Lance and Semisi Masirewa does cushion the exits of Sias Ebersohn, Zack Holmes and Nick Cummins somewhat. However, it's tough to say they've strengthened.

No one expects the Force to challenge for the knockout places, especially in a conference that includes the New Zealand franchises and of course the Brumbies, Waratahs and Rebels. It therefore unfortunately looks to be a battle with the Reds to avoid Australia's wooden spoon.

Fortunes however could well change with a confidence-boosting win at home to the Rebels in their opener before they head to the Reds. That will be the message from Foley as he looks to the likes of Charles, Pek Cowan, Matt Hodgson, McCalman, Mathewson and Grant to lead the way.

Key Players: As mentioned the arrival of Peter Grant is a steady influence at fly-half but it's his half-back partner, Alby Mathewson, who tends to have a huge say on how the Force play their game. A real nuggety number nine, the All Black is now 30 years old so has experience by the bucket load and is always hungry when he steps on the field. He's at his best when bossing his pack and threatening around the ruck.

Players to Watch: One to keep an eye on is Chris Alcock, who is a real workhorse around the field. Not the biggest but a quality openside flanker who the Force will hope adds plenty of dynamism alongside McCalman and Hodgson. Steve Mafi is also a handful when in full flow.

Prospects: It's hard to see the Force picking up scalps against quality opposition such as the Highlanders, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Chiefs and Brumbies so points must come against the Reds et al.

If they can turn last year's close losses into victories then they will enjoy a little breathing space from the basement dwellars – likely to be the Kings and Sunwolves. If not then another underwhelming season awaits.

Players In: Peter Grant (La Rochelle), Ben Tapuai (Reds), Jono Lance (Waratahs), Semisi Masirewa (Manawatu)

Players Out: Wilhelm Steenkamp (Brive), Sam Wykes (Coca Cola West Red Sparks), Sias Ebersohn (Cheetahs), Zack Holmes (La Rochelle), Pat Dellit (released), Nick Cummins (Coca Cola West Red Sparks), Mitchell Scott (Tasman), Akihito Yamada (Sunwolves)

Fixtures:

Saturday, 27 February v Rebels (nib stadium, Perth)
Saturday, 5 March v Reds (Suncorp Stadium, Perth)
Friday, 11 March v Brumbies (nib stadium, Perth)
Friday, 18 March v Hurricanes (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Saturday, 26 March v Chiefs (Waikato Stadium, Hamilton)
Friday, 1 April v Highlanders (Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin)
Friday, 8 April v Crusaders (nib stadium, Perth)
Round 8: BYE
Saturday, 23 April v Waratahs (nib stadium, Perth)
Friday, 29 April v Bulls (nib stadium, Perth)
Saturday, 7 May v Sunwolves (Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo)
Round 12: BYE
Saturday, 21 May v Blues (nib stadium, Perth)
Sunday, 29 May v Rebels (AAMI Park, Melbourne)
Saturday, 2 July v Cheetahs (Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein)
Saturday, 9 July v Stormers (nib stadium, Perth)
Saturday, 16 July v Brumbies (GIO Stadium, Canberra)

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