Western Force boss Dave Wessels is keen to make a positive impact in his first season as the Perth-based side’s head coach.
The Force have been perennial strugglers at Super Rugby level but Wessels has been in this situation before.
He faced a 37-year trophy drought when he signed on as an assistant coach at his beloved University of Cape Town in 2009.
By 2011, they were South Africa’s Varsity Cup champions.
The Force’s trophy cabinet sits similarly bare as the club enters its 12th Super Rugby season but that does not intimidate Wessels, who has been part of the Force coaching staff since joining as a senior assistant in 2013.
“Not everything we did in the past was wrong but we needed to be fairly tough on ourselves and look at our game both on and off field and figure out what was working and what wasn’t working,” he told the Australian Rugby Union’s official website.
“It’s in part an evolution and in part a revolution and I’m pretty confident that we’ve got that blend right.”
After serving as caretaker coach for the last three games of 2016, Wessels was the logical choice to take the reigns full time in 2017.
Perhaps one of his most impressive attributes as a head coach is that he is under no illusion as to where his strengths and weaknesses lie.
A defensive specialist, Wessels looks to have significantly improved the skill base of his team in preseason trials and at the Brisbane Tens through the guidance of skills coach Kevin Foote and attack coach Shaun Berne.
“Shaun has played a lot of top level rugby and a lot of that has been in Europe – he’s come over with some different ideas and probably approaching our attack slightly differently compared to the way a lot of other Australian coaches are thinking about it,” said Wessels.
“We want to create a player-led, coach-supported environment so my role is that I know as a head coach I’m not trying to do everything.
“I’m just trying to create the right environment for players and if that means bringing in specialists in certain areas than we will do that.”
The combinations between the Force backs have caught the eye in the preseason and Wessels now faces some selection headaches – a rarity for the Force in their short history.
“In terms of depth of the squad – that’s making a lot of difference for us – guys like Bill Meakes, Curtis Rona, Chance Peni, Robbie Coleman, Alex Newsome, all of those guys are Super Rugby quality and they’ve been pushing each other for spots,” added Wessels.
“I feel like we have some real firepower now all across the backs which is great.”
Gloucester recruit Bill Meakes and rugby league signing Curtis Rona have displayed impressive physicality combined with elite athleticism in the centres throughout the preseason and Wessels was excited about their potential impact in 2017.
“Meakes has played a lot of games for Gloucester in the snow and the ice and that makes you pretty tough,” he said.
“He’s very good defensively, he’s very physical, he’s good on the ball and he’s a very good organiser which is exactly what you want in a 12.
“Curtis Rona is big and powerful and he’s played a lot of top level at league but we’re very lucky that he has a union background, he went to school in Perth and played for our junior academy here so it’s certainly not foreign to him and he’s fit in well.
Wessels is a new breed of rugby coach and with a new AUS$1.5 million sponsor on board, the future is bright in Perth.
“Ultimately it’s just about giving the players the tools to realise their dreams – that’s how I see my role.
“If I can do that, I feel like the success will come naturally.”