The Western Force back row will be one of the strongest back rows in Australia, if not the whole of Super Rugby. It boasts Wallabies Ben McCalman and Matt Hodgson, as well as someone who is believed by many to be a future Wallaby in Angus Cottrell.
Additional to this is recent signing Steve Mafi, a power forward who played for Leicester Tigers during the 2012/2013 season, where they won the Aviva Premiership.
The Force have also signed an addition to their back row in Ross Haylett-Petty, brother of fullback Dane, who had a spectacular run for the Perth Spirit in the National Rugby Championship (NRC).
Let’s break down the starting back row, and why they will be the most in the Australian conference.
MATT HODGSON – OPENSIDE FLANKER
Hodgson is a Wallaby, and the heart of the Western Force. He has worn the number seven jersey since the first game they ever played in 2006. He can bind at openside, blindeside and no.8 and plays an integral role in the Force leadership group as the captain. Recently Hodgson captained the Wallabies against the Barbarians, and all though it was bot an official test match he still displayed brilliant leadership skills at an international level. Hodgson can lead a side, score tries, run the ball and work well in a line out. He is also a tackling machine, and when he runs the ball he refuses to go to ground until the last second. Hodgson obviously will be the starter at openside flanker, as the captain and the leader of the squad on the field.
BEN MCCALMAN - NUMBER 8
McCalman is the best No. 8 in Australia and has been a consistent starter for the Wallabies first 15 for the past number of tests. He is a utility player across the back five, playing in almost every position from lock to No.8 for either the Western Force or the Wallabies. Whilst he has recently been a consistent starter at No.8, some of his best rugby is played at blindeside flanker, so in the event of an injury he would easily be able to make the switch if need be. He is able to power through the line of defence when his team is in scoring distance and bring home points, his tackling is superb and although he is a quite character, many of the Force players have commended him for his leadership skills.
ANGUS COTTRELL – BLINDESIDE FLANKER
For those of you who do not watch the Western Force a lot, you may not have seen Angus Cottrell play, as he has not yet made it to the international stage. Although a quite achiever, Cottrell is always one of the most physical presences on the field at any given time. He is a powerhouse at the breakdown and on the set piece, and plays a very professional and disciplined game. A season ending ankle injury cut his 2014 Super Rugby season short in round 16 against the Crusaders, and I believe that was ultimately what made him miss out on making the Wallabies squad. Force coach Michael Foley has been quoted saying that he believes Cottrell will make the Wallabies squad very soon, but I think due to his injury, that won’t happen until after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Overall, this dynamic starting back row, followed by the support of a great amount of depth in the back row reserves will make up the best back row in Australia, if not the entire Super Rugby competition. The Waratahs have Michael Hooper in their squad, but he does not have the depth surrounding him like the Force back row, that is deep from the starting blindeside, right through to their last reserve.
The only back row in Super Rugby that is as strong as the Force back row is obviously the Crusaders, but the reason I have not looked into this is because they will not play the Crusaders for the entire 2014/2015 Super Rugby Season.