Super Rugby preview: Western Force

06th Feb 2013, 17:43

Share:

Key players: Sias Ebersohn and Ben McCalman

Key players: Sias Ebersohn and Ben McCalman

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Force!

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Force!

The departures of David Pocock (Brumbies) and Nathan Sharpe (retired) will mark a new era for the Western Force under the leadership of Michael Foley.

Last year: 2012 was pretty miserable for the Force - only three victories in 18 matches gave them one of the worst records in the league, with only the Lions propping them up at the bottom of the table. The main problem was in attack. No team scored fewer points in 2012 than the Force - 306 - with only 30 tries and two try bonus points indicating where their problems lie going into the new season. A highlight was undoubtedly the 45-19 crushing of the Queensland Reds in Perth at the start of April, a brilliant performance and a rare instance where the Force didn't let their lead slip at the death as in other fixtures throughout the season Unfortunately following that win over the Reds, the Force only picked up one more victory in their remaining nine matches to round off a largely dismal season.

This year: The men from the west have been handed a favourable draw, with winnable back-to-back away games against the Rebels and rookie Kings before taking on the Bulls at the daunting Loftus Versfeld. A good start will provide Foley's troops with the confidence and momentum needed to keep them away from the bottom of the standings. 0 of 3 and they're out of the competition in the first month. 1 of 3 and they're playing catch up big time. 2 out of 3 and they'd be well on track. And with the British and Irish Lions heading Down Under this year, it's highly unlikely the Force will be losing many players to training camps and Test matches as the other Wallaby-laded Australian sides - meaning they keep the core of their team intact, which will give them an added advantage.

Key players: The dent of losing Pocock and Sharpe is a large one and so the Force will turn to a new group of leaders for inspiration. At the forefront of that group will be captain Matt Hodgson, along with Ben McCalman - who recently extended his contract - Salesi Ma'afu and also scrum-half Brett Sheehan following his stint with the Wallabies during the November internationals. Astute recruitment has been made in the form of Alby Mathewson from the Blues and exciting South African prospect Sias Ebersohn, whilst bringing in Hugh McMeniman will add important experience. Sam Norton-Knight is another who returns from stints in Europe and Japan. However, the key man is Nick Cummins. The honey badger left a mark with a crucial 'meat pie' at Twickenham against England and when it comes to attacking options is the Force's fiercest weapon. His fitness is absolutely crucial, because without him the Force are short on firepower.

Noteworthy signings: Alby Mathewson (Blues), Chris Alcock (Waratahs), Hugh McMeniman (Kubota), Jayden Hayward (Hurricanes), Sam Norton-Knight (Sanyo Wild Knights), Sias Ebersohn (Cheetahs).

Noteworthy losses: Anare Koliavu, Ben Seymour, Cameron Shepherd, David Harvey, Elvis Taione, Gene Fairbanks, James Stannard, Joshua Holmes, Justin Turner, Napolioni Nalaga, Oliver Atkins, Rory Sidey, Ruan Smith, Samu Wara.

Prospects: The only words that have been spoken about Michael Foley so far have been good ones, with the former Bath and Waratahs boss attempting to breath life into the side. His mission though appears difficult given the Force's lack of attacking threat outwide apart from Cummins, making challenging for the playoffs appear unlikely. Foley's first year in charge should be viewed as a season of building foundations, with gathering more wins than last year's three victories an essential objective.

Fixtures:
Feb 15: v Rebels, away
Feb 24: v Kings, away
March 3: v Bulls, away
Week 4: Bye
March 16: v Reds, away
March 23: v Cheetahs, home
March 31: v Waratahs, away
April 6: v Rebels, home
April 13: v Crusaders, home
April 19: v Hurricanes, away
April 27: v Brumbies, away
May 4: v Reds, home
May 10: v Chiefs, away
May 17: v Sharks, home
May 25: v Highlanders, home
Week 16: Bye
June 9: v Waratahs, home
Week 18: Bye
Week 19: Bye
July 13: v Brumbies, home