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"The Western Force are determined to have a rugby revival with the motto of 'Get on the tools, do your job, work hard' according to Angus Fontaine."
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” “The Western Force are determined to have a rugby revival with the motto of ‘Get on the tools, do your job, work hard’ according to Angus Fontaine.”

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The Western Force approached their pre-season training in a unique way compared to other Super Rugby teams. They spent a week working on fire prevention measures in the community of Wooroloo, near Perth, from Monday to Friday. This involved long hours in the sun and scrub, as players formed a chain gang to clear firebreaks and reduce the risk of future bushfires. Even after a full day of physical labor, the players went on to participate in a full training session instead of heading to the pub for a break.

“My goal was for them to develop as individuals,” remarks Force coach Simon Cron. “I planned for the boys to work with tools, go back to the beginning, gain perspective, and remember the number of hours in a day.”

Following a home game record of five wins out of six, Cron was unable to make it to the finals in 2023. Consequently, he desired to have a team that possessed both a stronger determination and a greater level of modesty the following year. He noted, “In comparison to the struggles many face to merely survive, the stress of playing rugby is truly a blessing.”

Cron’s expectations of receiving good luck from the rugby gods through his team, the Force, have backfired. The team has had no success in their first four games of the season due to a combination of misfortune, key players getting injured, and suspensions. Even more concerning for Cron is the fact that they have turned promising leads into losses twice already. In the second round, they gave up 29 points without reply and lost 48-34 to the Melbourne Rebels, and in their most recent game, they were ahead 14-0 against the ACT Brumbies but ended up losing 22-19. The team’s lack of discipline and missed opportunities were evident in their 22-14 defeat to Moana Pasifika in the fourth round.

Fortunately, Cron does not have any hair or he would have been extremely stressed. He did an excellent job in recruiting players for the 2024 season, especially in convincing veteran Wallabies halfback Nic White to join the team and assisting World Cup fly half Ben Donaldson to adapt to the team’s playing style. Cron, who was originally from New Zealand, goes by the nickname “Cronny” over there and “Cronno” over here. He has also added former All Black Atu Moli and Māori All Blacks players Tom Franklin and Reed Prinsep to the team.

Unfortunately, there has not been sufficient progress in balancing the number of injuries plaguing key members of the Wallabies team, such as Izack Rodda who is currently out for two to three weeks due to a foot injury, Reesjan Pasitoa with an elbow injury sidelining him for 10 to 12 weeks, as well as Siosifa Amone (six to eight weeks with a thumb injury), Felix Kalapu (seven weeks with a hamstring injury), Harry Hoopert (three to four months with a knee injury) and Angus Wagner (seven weeks recovering from a knee injury). To make matters worse, Marley Pearce was recently suspended for a month and Kane Koteka received an 18-month doping ban this week.

Western Force coach Simon CronView image in fullscreen

Fortunately, Cron brings a valuable perspective that he shares with his players. He came to Australia from Christchurch in 2006 for a break from rugby and established a thriving fashion company. While winning is important, he believes it is crucial to coach his players as both men and athletes. As a former teacher, he understands that his primary responsibility at the Force is to improve their skills, but he must first assess how they learn and their unique abilities and attitudes. His secondary goal is to ensure they have fun.

It’s easier to talk about than to actually do it. The Perth franchise has faced numerous challenges in order to reach their current level of success. Originally founded by WA Rugby in 1893, they became a part of Super Rugby in 2006 but were unexpectedly removed in 2017. However, mining tycoon Andrew Forrest stepped in to support the team, even establishing a number of Indo-Pacific rugby tournaments. Due to the pandemic, the Force was able to make a comeback and participate in the 2020 Australia conference and has been a part of Super Rugby ever since.

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Although he has never achieved a higher ranking than seventh place, Cron has the ability to guide his team to victory. Just 18 months after his initial appointment, the 48-year-old has been re-contracted for the 2025-26 season. “The progress of the team under Simon is inspirational,” comments new Force CEO Niamh O’Connor. “The atmosphere exudes a high-performance mindset and a drive for success.” This is all part of a larger plan to transform the Western Force into one of the top teams in the world.

O’Connor, the inaugural female CEO in the history of Super Rugby, has played a significant role in this growth. Since moving to Perth from Ireland in 2011, she has successfully balanced various positions in both the construction and arts industries, all while actively participating in the grassroots rugby community as a mother, manager, and board member. According to her, the Force presents an opportunity to establish rugby in a highly competitive sports market, with plans to develop a robust junior program and capitalize on the rapidly-growing popularity of women’s rugby in the area.

In the hub of AFL followers, the West Coast Eagles attracted 103,275 members while the Force only had 3,660. This illustrates the immense challenge that rugby faces in Western Australia, a state known for its vastness. O’Connor comments that even in Ireland, rugby is not the most popular sport, but it holds the advantage of being globally interconnected.

“Similar to Simon, I aspire to challenge the status quo of our methods. Our team, just like the one he is assembling, views WA as a diverse community where endless possibilities exist.”

The obstacles are present. According to Cron, Niamh has a strong passion for the game and they both share the value of contributing to a greater cause. However, she wishes she could play as a front row for the Force. Cron says that if he starts paying attention to what the spectators are saying, he might as well be one of them. He has a talented group of players and as long as they continue to give their best, he will continue to support them. This lesson was learned during the pre-season: Focus on your role, work diligently, and strive for growth.

Source: theguardian.com