Force taking small steps in right direction
July 17, 2013
Michael Foley's Western Force look set to improve further © Getty Images
On paper, it would be easy to label the Western Force's 2013 Super Rugby campaign a failure.
Just four wins and a draw from 16 games makes for ugly reading, with a 13th-place finish hardly cause for much celebration. But if you dig a bit deeper, the first year of new coach Michael Foley's "relaunch" could prove to be a turning point of sorts for the success-starved franchise.
On their day, the Force showed they have the ability to beat anyone, anywhere. Wins against the Crusaders, Queensland Reds (away) and Brumbies proved that, while they also came close to beating the Chiefs in Pukekohe and the Bulls in Pretoria.
Those teams occupy the top five spots on the Super Rugby ladder, and the Force should be proud of their efforts against them. But it was their knack of underperforming against weak sides that was the ultimate frustration for fans.
A loss to the newly-formed Southern Kings in round two was a sign of things to come, while dropping both games against the Rebels cost the Force any chance of avoiding last spot in the Australian conference.
The gap between their best and worst needs to be closed if the Force are to become legitimate finals contenders next season. A kinder draw would also help. The redevelopment of nib Stadium meant the Force were all over the shop for most of the season, clocking up an estimated 68,000km in flights.
The heavy travel load was a big burden on the side, but they did well to stay competitive in most games on the road. A clear exception to that was their performance in Canberra, when they were smashed 41-7 by a ruthless Brumbies unit. It was the Force's worst performance of the year, but they got revenge in the final round when they upset the Australian conference leaders 21-15.
The one glaring misjudgement from Foley in his debut year was his decision to field a weakened side against the British & Irish Lions.
But overall, the Force have set some solid foundations to achieve future success.
It is a far cry to last year, when the Force won just three games, lost coach Richard Graham mid-season and had to say farewell to star flanker David Pocock.
"Look, this wasn't a season where we were going to win a lot of games," Foley said. "I think coming out of a season like last season, where there was probably such a bleak feel, the players pulled together very strongly from the start. They learned to play for each other above all else."
Planning for next season has already begun, with Reds flyer Luke Morahan, Zack Holmes and Dane Haylett-Petty among the early signings. And some foreign players will soon be added to the mix, with the Force given permission to field two marquees and six foreign development players next season; an increase from one marquee and two development players.
The biggest quandary facing the Force is whether they take the punt on troubled Wallabies playmaker James O'Connor. The 23-year-old has a history of causing divides and friction in sides, whether at provincial or national level. His late-night escapades are also a bad look. But his on-field talents might prove irresistible for the Force, and he would form an awesome combination with Wallabies player-in-waiting Kyle Godwin.
The Force player group, led by skipper Matt Hodgson, have worked hard on the club's culture and values system this year. Although this new-found resolve hasn't translated into on-field results just yet, the Force are confident success won't be too far down the track.
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