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The Emirates Western Force is forging a new path as the side builds towards the 2014 Super Rugby season with the signing of exciting inside centre Marcel Brache and promising tighthead prop Chris Heiberg from South Africa’s Western Province.
As the Force enters the second phase of its relaunch, the club is moving away from its reliance on the traditional east coast-based player pool with a renewed focus on developing alternate avenues for selecting players, including the local Perth competition.
RugbyWA CEO Mark Sinderberry says the new approach will expand the Australian rugby playing stocks.
“With four provinces fighting over the same players on the east coast, we’ll continue to think outside the square with regard to our recruitment,” he said.
“We’re implementing a rugby program with an intense focus on the on- and off-field development of our players that will be a destination of choice; players will come here knowing they will become better people as well as players.
“Marcel and Chris join our club as one of a number of recruitment initiatives we’re putting into place that will not only see us become self-sustainable but also help extend the list of players eligible for Wallaby selection.
“Developing our local player base remains a key focus with a view to seeing more and more Perth products progress through the player pathway to the Emirates Western Force. To that end we are very proud to have four local players – Kyle Godwin, Keiran Longbottom, Zack Holmes and Dane Haylett-Petty – in our squad in 2014, the most the club has boasted at any one time.
“I’d like to thank the Australian Rugby Union for their understanding of our unique situation in allowing the recruitment of players such as Chris and Marcel, and we’re excited about what they’ll bring to the team next season.”
Brache and Heiberg join flyhalf Sias Ebersohn and utility back Jayden Hayward as foreign developing players in the Force squad for 2014, while Emerging Springbok Wilhelm Steenkamp and Alby Mathewson are the club’s international marquee players.
Brache (signed until the end of 2015) and Heiberg (contracted to the end of 2016) join the Force as two of seven new recruits for next season, including Steenkamp, Haylett-Petty, Holmes, Wallabies outside back Luke Morahan and Brumbies scrumhalf Ian Prior.
Head Coach Michael Foley says the South African pair will bring further competition and depth to the developing Emirates Western Force outfit in 2014.
“The character displayed by the squad this season provides a good foundation,” he said. “This stands out off field in the way the players have held each other to higher standards and on field in the way they've played for each other. As with any new learnings, there are times where you come up short, but the players have remained undaunted in the face of those and other challenges.
“Earning respect through our standards and effort is our primary motivator and while we are beginning to understand the significance that approach has on our on-field performances, knowing we also have the respect of our people is of paramount importance.
“While Marcel and Chris have experience in the successful Western Province program, both come with a hunger and humility that will support us in our aspirations to earn respect.
“As a ball carrying prop, Chris makes an impact in the collision through power and skill, but most importantly possesses an aggressive mentality that stands out in every contest of the game.
“Marcel is tall and agile, which makes him equally adept in the one-on-one contests in the air and on the ground, and brings with him a strong background in provincial rugby.”
Marcel Brache, an American-born, South African-raised centre, has spent four seasons with the Cape Town-based provincial side, including as a member of the 2012 Currie Cup-winning squad that defeated the Natal Sharks, 25-18, in the final.
The 25-year-old, who moved from the US to Cape Town with his family at the age of four, rose to prominence at the University of Cape Town, representing the Ikey Tigers at outside centre in their 26-16 Varsity Cup final win over Tuks (University of Pretoria) in 2011.
He was recruited to Western Province the previous year where he made his first of 41 Currie Cup appearances for the province, including vice-captaining the side last year.
He has represented the Stormers on one occasion, making his Super Rugby debut in the side’s 27-17 win over the Lions in 2012.
Brache says he’s excited about continuing his rugby career in Western Australia.
“I’m extremely honoured and privileged to be given this opportunity to come across to develop my game with the Force,” he said. “I’m amped about the move and amped about the future that I’ll have in Perth.
“I’m excited about playing in another country and in a team with the stature of the Force and alongside the great players that they have – it’s an incredible opportunity.”
The ball-playing midfielder says he’s further motivated by the potential of the side for next year.
“There’s been considerable improvement in the Force this season,” he said. “What’s true to fact is that they’ve played with a will and a desire to have a go and play for each other. While results may not have gone the way the team would have liked, they’ve shown that when they put on the Force jersey they’re doing it for the teammate next to them.
“They’ve shown a strong desire to play the game for the full 80 minutes on a weekly basis and as a player joining the club, that’s something I aspire to do as well.”
Chris Heiberg will join the Force having been a part of the Stormers squad for their past two Super Rugby outings against the Reds and Kings.
Like Brache, the 28-year-old prop initially made his name with Ikeys, including as a member of the side that finished runner-up to Maties (Stellenbosch University) in their Varsity Cup final loss (17-14) in 2010.
Heiberg has been a regular starter for Western Province in the Vodacom Cup and was starting tighthead for the side that succumbed to eventual champions, the Golden Lions, in the semi-finals of this year’s competition.
The Cape Town-born front-rower says he’s looking forward to continuing his Super Rugby career with the Emirates Western Force.
“I’m really excited about joining the Force and I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made with my rugby,” he said.
“I’ve always been impressed with how the Force has played their rugby and they’ve had some good performances this season. It’s exciting to be going to a team where there’s a lot happening and where there’s a real focus on development which is excellent for my own game.
“I’m really looking forward to working with Michael Foley, who has developed some great structures and a very good program at the Force.
“I’ve enjoyed being involved with the Stormers and with Western Province but I felt the time was right to move on and have a change.
“And while I’ve never been to ‘Aussie’, Perth seems very similar to Cape Town – there are a lot of South Africans in Perth and I’m sure it’ll be like a home away from home.”
Heiberg says he’s eager to begin staking his claim for next year when he joins the side for the 2014 pre-season.
“There is a huge emphasis on scrummaging in the modern game and I think that’s definitely a strength of mine but it’s important that you’re able to tick all the boxes,” he said. “I need to be able to do my job at the scrum, rucks and lineouts but I’ll also be looking to add value through my ball-carrying and physicality as well.
“The Force has a very good forward pack and I’ll be looking to add value wherever I can. I know it’s not going to be easy and I’ll have to work bloody hard to earn my place.”
Name: Marcel Brache
Born: 15/10/1987, Los Angeles (USA)
Super Rugby caps: 1
Super Rugby points: 0
Representative Rugby: 2012 Stormers, 2010-2013 Western Province
Name: Chris Heiberg
Born: 01/06/1985, Cape Town (RSA)
Super Rugby caps: 0
Super Rugby points: 0
Representative Rugby: 2013 Stormers, 2013 Western Province