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Thursday, January 19, 2006


Super 14: Focus on Western Force

Article by Lee Grant

The advent of the 4th Oz Super team is the most exciting thing to happen in Oz rugby since the start of the professional era, but Aussies shouldn’t expect miracles from them.

John Mitchell was responsible for getting the bulk of the Force players to Perth. He has a track record of getting the most out of limited material and is exactly the kind of coach the Force needed.

The back three, with Staniforth and Ioane on the wings and Shepherd at fullback, will be potent if they ever get the pill. Then there is utility Hilgendorf available to play any position from 10 to 15.

Forward leadership should be impressive from Sharpe, Cannon and Fava, but I fear the backs will be rudderless.

The midfield is not distinguished and Junior Pelesasa might not be ready to start the season anyway the last I heard; so MacKay might have to play 12 with Hilgendorf slotting into 13. Daruda, the Oz 2005 U/19 captain might have to start as flyhalf before his time, or they might bring in the 2004 Taranaki flyhalf, James. It’s all a bit makeshift and I fear it will be an ongoing problem.

Scrums: It seemed last year that whenever LH Hardy came on to replace Dunning the NSW scrums went bad. NSW will miss the strong scrummaging hooker, Cannon, but the jury is still out on TH Fitter. I fear that the two likely Queensland locks won’t be of much help to the props either. Assistant coach Ben Darwin and Mitchell will have a huge job getting all the T5 on the same page.

Inexperience: One of the reasons we wanted a 4th team was to assess players who couldn’t get a chance elsewhere and it was inevitable that the Force would have more than their fair share of new guys who have no, or little, Super12 experience in their first year. It will not be surprising that, in the absence of an NPC to grade them outside of amateur rugby, a few of them have no credentials to play Super14 rugby, and some will be found wanting. This will apply especially to bench players.

Any draw is going to be tough for a brand new team and one of the intriguing side-shows of the Super14 will be that the Force will finish their season against the Cats, Cheetahs and Sharks in the RSA. On paper these 3 teams are candidates to be relegated; so performing well against the new Oz team in the last few rounds could be critical to their staying in the comp next year.

Nearly all the players are from the eastern states. Will they bond strongly together as strangers in a strange land, or will they flop? How successful will Mitchell be at getting the best out of his team leaders and at developing players so they can create a competitive team better than the parts, some of them spare parts, from the word ‘go’?

Look out for
Digby Ioane is one of the youngsters that the Reds were appalled at missing out on. I think he is a future Wallaby but we haven’t seen him play in anything like an NPC match yet and therefore don’t know if his junior performances will transpose into Super14 ability.

Brett Stapleton might not get onto the park but if he does he will be the fastest Oz pro rugby player we have ever had. The 18 y.o. has clocked 10.27 for 100 metres and although he still has a lot to learn about rugby, he isn’t the worst schoolboy wing I ever saw. Frankly, it will be a pleasure to see an Oz player with lightning pace after years of seeing other nations trot out their smiling speedsters.

No miracles but 12th looks achievable and will be a fair effort in the first year.
I diagree

They look as weak as the Reds with only their exceptional coach being a point of light.

I don't think they're going anywhere.

12th is optimistic.
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