Congratulations to the Western Force for creating their own piece of history on the weekend with their fourth victory in a row, the first time the club has ever achieved this.
Although the victory was great it was the manner in which it was achieved that was the biggest credit to the team. The Force had taken a 12-0 lead courtesy of four penalties from Sias Ebersohn, but were pegged back when the Queensland Reds took advantage of Angus Cotterell being sin-binned for ten minutes, and by the time he came back on the park the Reds were up 14-12.
The Force immediately restored their lead as soon as they were back to the full compliment of players. However a foolish penalty was conceded which allowed the Reds to go in at half time 17-17. In a tight second half the Reds seized the lead courtesy of another penalty in the 75th minute. The Force however did not panic and showed patience and good discipline to make their way up the pitch, and in the 17th phase Jayden Hayward crashed over under the posts to make it 29-30, The conversion made it 29-32 and the Force managed to hang on and record a famous victory.
We have spoken to many of the players this year on the show and pre-season to Michael Foley and all have talked about the brotherhood within the team and how the players have faith in their team mates, and also all are offering their full support for each other, and this performance showed that this was not just talk.
What made it all the more interesting was the fact that a performance such as this was witnessed against former coach Richard Graham’s Queensland Reds. Graham had stated when he accepted the role at the Reds that Perth was not a rugby city – which was a fair comment – and he was returning to Queensland where the game was more entrenched in the psyche of the people.
Michael Foley was the coach to replace Graham, and although last season fans witnessed many of the same traits as they had suffered under his two predecessors, one could see what Foley was trying to achieve. One key component in the team’s development was the leadership being shown by Matt Hodgson and other key players who always seemed an extension of the coach’s thinking, and what he was trying to achieve. It was obvious last season that there was a united front and that all were buying into this task of turning the team around together.
Foley denied on the show at the start of this Super Rugby season that he recruited players from South Africa as a deliberate ploy to instil the culture that is rugby in that country and also New Zealand. A culture that maybe was lacking at the Force in previous years. It was not necessarily the recruitment of these players that has seen the club’s form turnaround, but it has reinforced what he and his leading players were trying to instil.
The intensity and the desire being shown on the park this year is second to none in comparison to any previous Force season. Yet teams are not successful purely on these attributes, the team has defended furiously with players putting their bodies on the line for their team mates, and there is a belief that every man can do his job. When the team makes substitutions no longer does the tempo change within the team, the change is almost seamless as those coming on know the job they have to do, and have been prepared to a level where they are confident they can deliver.
So what of the first two games of the Super Rugby season where the team was destroyed? One thing that these two games have made clear is that the pre-season games were not against adequate opposition to ensure that the players were at the right levels of intensity come game one. This is not as straightforward as it would appear. The Western Force being located in the most remote city in Australia are always going to struggle to attract teams to Perth, and if they can they come at a cost. If they travel, there too is a huge cost, and with the club recording a massive loss last financial year the bean counters understandably wanted to watch costs.
There is still a long way to go in the Super Rugby season, but the Western Force have shown that they can now compete with the best and this weekend will be a chance for them to avenge the defeat suffered in that opening game against the Waratahs. The big test will come when they head across the Indian Ocean and take on the Stormers and the Cheetahs. Wins in these games and the Force could well be competing in their first finals of Super Rugby, something fans are beginning to start dreaming about.
The major positive is the progress that is being made by the coach and his leadership group and all of the players. There is no doubt that this is a “team” a group with a common purpose, a group of players who compliment and support each other. Long may their evolution and success continue.
Also we should not forget that congratulations are due to the Western Australian side that won the Junior Gold Cup (Under 17) title at the weekend thanks 28-19 victory over Victoria.