With four wins in a row for the Western Force, most people are looking for answers mostly to the questions, why and how.
I am not going to focus on individuals here as so much has been written about various players over the past month or two. Everybody knows that McCalman and Hodgson have been totemic, and Ebersohn has made a quantum leap in his performances but I want to look at what, as a squad, the Force are excelling in this season.
The most obvious improvement this season in my eyes has been the physical conditioning of the side. In past seasons, the Force have been rightfully accused of being cumbersome and overly-methodical in their approach. There seemed to be a lack of explosive pace across the park. How many times last season, did we see the likes of Nathan Sharpe or Sam Wykes rumble toward the opposing defence and go to ground with glacial speed. This denied the Force any attacking opportunity and made them vulnerable to scavenging loose forwards. This season there is a feverish intensity in the ball carrying, and the clean out of the ruck has been brutally effective. It has made a massive difference to the side and Ebersohn has benefitted.
Some people will say that this is more an improvement in attitude, but I donít think so. I believe that the improvement in conditioning has allowed the Force to play at a tempo that in previous years has been beyond them.
The other side of this coin is that the Force are finishing games as strong if not stronger than their opponents. Most recently the Queensland Reds were ambushed at the finishing post, and the Chiefs were outstayed over eighty minutes a week before that. The Rebels were run off the park for the Forceís first victory, blitzed before they had landed in Perth. The management has to be commended for the work they have blatantly put into this integral aspect of the Forceís game.
Another key element that has improved exponentially for the Force this season is their accuracy throughout the game, both in the set piece and in the loose. How many years previously, would the Force go through ten phases and inexplicably knock the ball on? Or how many times have they won a penalty, kicked to the corner five metres out and then get turned over to the dismay of the Perth crowd? The answer to both questions would upset Force fans, but these lapses seem to be a thing of the past. We only have to look to the driving maul try from Matt Hodgson against the Chiefs to see an example. The first attempt was foiled by illegal play from the chiefs, but Hodgson knew they would eventually break them, and the Waikato men were blown away for an easy score. The Force had the belief that their accuracy under pressure would hold up.
Against the reds, the Force found themselves a few points down with a couple of minutes to go, but sixteen phases later, Jayden Hayward broke through for the match winning score. The Reds were unable to stop the Force as the accuracy was too much for them, and eventually a mismatch was created.
Finally, last but not least, the Force have rectified their game management and tactics. At all times the Force know what they should be doing and where they should be doing it. Ebersohn has to be commended for this but he has been ably assisted by Kyle Godwin and the forwards have delivered quick ball to him all season. The Force play their football in the right areas of the field. This can be most clearly shown in their match versus the Rebels. They strangled Melbourne with their tactical kicking and suffocated their rivals. The Force this season are willing to have a go but unlike previous seasons, they have an understanding as to what they need to be doing in any given situation and as a result they have become a notoriously difficult side to break down. Defensively, the Western Force have combined line speed with positioning, to a vastly superior level than previous seasons, with virtually the same personnel.
No matter what happens from now until the end of the season, all of the Force supporters and more importantly, the players, now know what the men from the west are capable of.