Some fresh faces, a new game plan and a brand new season will see the Western Force look to climb the Super Rugby ladder in 2016.
INS: Peter Grant (La Rochelle), Ben Tapuai (Reds), Jono Lance (Waratahs), Richie Arnold (Queensland Country) Semisi Masirewa (Manawatu), Tom Sexton (Rebels)
OUTS: Wilhelm Steenkamp (Brive), Sam Wykes (Coca-Cola West Red Sparks), Sias Ebersohn (Cheetahs), Zack Holmes (La Rochelle), Nick Cummins (Coca-Cola West Red Sparks), Mitchell Scott (Tasman), Akihito Yamada (Panasonic Wild Knights)
Rebels (H)Reds (A)
Injuries: Tetera Faulkner (knee), Francois van Wyk (wrist)
If trial form is anything to go by, the Western Force are set for a much improved 2016. They opened their pre-season with a convincing 28-0 victory over last year’s minor premiers the Hurricanes, followed by a 34-26 win against invitational side the Asia Pacific Dragons. Both Jono Lance and Luke Morahan caught the eyes of many with their performances.
Why they can win:
The Force have a backrow full of experience led by influential skipper Matt Hodgson and current Wallaby Ben McCalman. If these two can fire in 2016 the Force will be sure to cause a few headaches during the season. There’s no surprise that they encountered their best season to date in 2014 when the likes of Hodgson and McCalman were fit and firing.
Where they need to improve:
The Force have never been renowned for being a team full of superstars, with one of their main issues of late being their lack of firepower in the backline. The addition of experienced playmakers in Jono Lance and Peter Grant along with Super Rugby championship winning centre Ben Tapuai will add to their composure in high pressure situations, with the trio to take control of a vastly inexperienced side.
Superstar: Ben McCalman
Heading into the first year of a three-year deal, off the back of a consistent 2015 Rugby World Cup and a Top League title in Japan Ben McCalman will be looking to lead the WA side to their first Finals appearance. McCalman was being heavily chased by the Waratahs following the 2015 season, but stuck fat with the Force, inking a new deal with the team that gave him his first Super Rugby start. The only current Wallaby in the side, McCalman will have a major say in the Force’s success this season.
X-Factor: Jono Lance
Jono Lance struggled to secure a starting spot at the Reds and the Waratahs in the past stuck behind Wallabies Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley. The 2011 Super Rugby champion will be a tight tussle with former Springbok Peter Grant to secure the 10 jersey. Lance was one of the standouts for the Force in their trials, controlling the side’s attack, is set for his biggest Super Rugby season yet.
Rising star: Semisi Masirewa
Rugby fans better start practising this name because 23-year-old Semisi Masirewa is set to burst onto the Super Rugby scene in 2016. Masirewa was picked up by the Force following a breakout tournament at the New Zealand National Provincial Championship. A broken ankle ended his season but Masirewa was so influential through the competition that he was ranked 13th for clean breaks and seventh for defenders beaten despite playing just six matches.
What the coach says:
“For us I think coming into this season the goal is to score more tries and there’s some good little indicators at this point in time (that is happening). There’s still a lot of work to be done but the guys are enjoying working harder…it’s not just a matter of doing the skills but how we execute the decisions and our skills at speed.
“We’ve gone back to things we felt probably got us the move (up the ladder) in the first place in 2014 which is spending time on the cultural things, on the behavioural things that we feel drive that winning mentality.”