Sport

Western Force struggling to make its mark on Super Rugby

Nathan Sharpe of the Western Force leads his team around the field in heavy fog prior to the start of round 18 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Force on July 14, 2012 in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Nathan Sharpe of the Western Force leads his team around the field in heavy fog prior to the start of round 18 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Force on July 14, 2012 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Martin Hunter / Getty Images

FEEL that? Yeah, me too. It's the feeling of optimism in the Aussie rugby air.

After a less than stellar 2012, rugby in Gondwanaland feels good.

Firstly, it's a new season-and that always augurs well, except maybe if you're a Force fan - but more on that later.

The Reds have a new coach, possibly (more on that later), the Rebels have a new captain in Delve, and the Tahs, the Tahs, people, the Tahs that's where most of the warm-n-fuzzy is being generated.

And that's good for Aussie rugby.

But before I discuss the Tahs, let's have a quick squiz at Aussie rugby's problem-child, the Western Force.

Since 'creation' in 2005, the Force has struggled to find its feet both on and off the field.

Problems with coaches and sponsors off the field and a 'light' player roster have seen the blue-boys from across the west play the role of not much more than nuisance value to other Super Rugby teams.

Aussie rugby has always struggled with player depth.

Possibly always will (comparatively speaking to the other Super Rugby conferences).

Even though the Super concept will no doubt, in time, improve that depth, the Force, with its lack of established 'feeder' system and strong links to the 'pointy' end of town, end up with 'what's left' after the four other teams have finished at the player trough.

Possibly the club's primary strategy with player acquisition, using the securing of a 'name player' (Sharp, Pocock, for example) to drive other acquisitions, had not been as effective, either.

One wonders how the Force will go with new coach Michael Foley.

'Axel' had a horrible time of it with the Tahs. Tough gig, no doubt. He obviously knows what he is doing, you don't get to be involved with the Wallaby system without some real solid talent.

The real challenge will be in bringing that mob of 'what's left' players together and using that 'what's left' tag for motivational value. And, like all Aussie Super Rugby teams, luck with injuries is critical to success.

To the Tahs. And it's the Tahs that have us feeling positive for Aussie rugby in 2013.

Of course all rugby 'markets' are important, but Sydney is first among equals.

You 'do good' in Sydney, and pretty much all else falls into place.

The Tahs' misery has been well documented and rejoiced over the last, well, ever since the genesis of Super rugby in 1992. But that's about to change.

Most of the optimism generating from Sydney comes in the form of new coach, Michael Cheika, and star recruit, Israel Folau.

I've always felt that the Tahs were close to realising their potential.

They had some real issues, no doubting that, but once a few pieces fall into place, their history, their strong ties with the corporates, and their very, very strong 'feeder' system.

And I feel that Cheika and Folau are those pieces.

You've got a coach that has seen success at the top levels in Europe.

He's a New South Welshman, knows the club rugby system, having done his time in club-land with Randwick as a player in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but is fresh to the system.

And Folau, well, the man's a freak. Injury aside, he'll star for the Tahs, winning them many games, and he'll push for Wallaby selection for the British and Irish Lions' tests.

And that's the other reason for optimism with Aussie rugby in 2013: the British and Irish Lions tour.

These are once-every-twelve-year opportunities for players, coaches, teams, corporates and us punters. It will be massive.

Rugby's profile will grow to during their trip, too. We'll all be talking and thinking rugby. Can't wait.

And there's an expected 30-40,000 British expected to follow the team to Australia.

Which has got to be good for the economy, if at least sales of fish-n-chips-n-warm beer.

Topics:  opinion, rugby union, super rugby, western force



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