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Thread: Q+A with new Force coach Dave Wessels

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    Q+A with new Force coach Dave Wessels

    Sam Worthington|
    Source: FOX SPORTS

    A LITTLE known 33-year-old from South Africa is the new Force head coach.

    Sam Worthington chats with Dave Wessels, a man on a Super Rugby mission. You are not particularly well known to the casual Australian rugby fan. What is your background and what made you decide to become a career coach at such a young age?

    Wessels: I guess the decision was made for me because I was actually terrible as a player.

    I was no chance of making it as a player.

    I played in the back-row, I liked to think of myself as a good openside flanker but I was pretty terrible to be fair.

    But there was something special about the game, even though I wasn’t special as a player.

    There’s something that I’ve always loved about rugby and certainly in my family, rugby is a pretty big deal.

    The best way for me to stay involved with it, to realise some of the dreams that I had, to be in rugby professionally, was to start coaching.

    So I started coaching early on.

    I started with under-9s which is more like herding cats than it was coaching.

    And from there I’ve just been incredibly lucky with the people that I’ve met along the way and the people that have helped me.

    I certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am now without all those people’s help. Who have been your biggest influences in rugby?

    Wessels: There’s a lot.

    The first guy who gave me a professional job in rugby was Rassie Erasmus, who is now the director of rugby at Munster.

    I was lucky enough to do Super Rugby with the Stormers in 2008 and 2009.

    And in that coaching group was Gary Gold, who is now director of rugby at the Sharks, Allister Coetzee, who is the Springboks coach, Matt Proudfoot, who is the Springboks assistant coach, Brendan Venter, who has coached Saracens very successfully and is now at London Irish.

    So it was just an incredibly lucky coaching group and then a little bit later down the line I met Jake White.

    And that was another incredibly lucky experience because Jake was incredibly generous with me and took me to Canberra with him in his first year at the Brumbies.

    I got to learn a lot from Jake, Laurie Fisher and Stephen Larkham who were all there.

    Those chance meetings were just incredibly lucky and I’m very grateful to those people. There seems to be an obsession with hiring former greats as coaches. But most top coaches — in any sport — weren’t great players. What do you make of it?

    Wessels: Probably the best analogy I’ve heard is the one about Shakespeare.

    Shakespeare wrote some of the best murder mysteries around but he presumably never committed a murder himself.

    It’s the same thing — as long as you can describe the outcome you’re looking for and can understand the player’s perspective, you don’t necessarily have to have the ability to do it yourself.

    David Wessels looks on during the NRC semi-final at AAMI Park.David Wessels looks on during the NRC semi-final at AAMI Park. Source: Getty Images What makes you think you’re ready to be a Super Rugby head coach?

    Wessels: For me, it’s probably more about the environment that I’m in at the moment and the fact that I’ve been there for some time and I know a lot of the stakeholders.

    But in particular I know the players.

    It would be a much more daunting challenge if it was a totally new team, with totally new surroundings.

    But I kind of feel like we’ve already started the journey and I think the team probably feels like that too.

    It’s not immediately evident to a lot of people who have watched us play but I think we’ve made a lot of improvement in our game over the last season or two.

    I think we’re starting to move in the direction that the players are keen to go and I just feel that I’m part of that journey.

    Not necessarily that I feel like I’m doing anything hugely different from what I was doing before. You headed off some big names by interviewing strongly for the Force job. What was your message?

    Wessels: There’s really three key things as a team we’ve spoken about.

    The first is that we want to create the right environment for the players and so to me that means a really strong management team.

    So I’m really pleased with the management team that we’ve been able to put together.

    And certainly the ARU have been very supportive in allowing me to have the support staff that I’m looking for.

    We’ve got Joe Barakat who’s an Australian who’s coming over from Ulster to do our forwards.

    We’ve got Alan Gaffney who’s helping with our attack and Alan’s CV speaks for itself.

    And then we’ve got Shaun Berne who is known to most people as a player but has a very good rugby brain.

    We went through an extensive process for our attacking coaching role and Shaun was very impressive during that process.

    And so he’s following us from Leinster in a couple of weeks’ time.

    So I feel like we’ve got a really good team around the players.

    And the second thing we spoke about was we wanted to really focus on our skill development.

    So we spent the last couple of weeks, really on our micro-skills and that will continue right through the pre-season and in-season as well.

    I feel like if we really want to play the attacking game that we’ve spoken about, we need to have the skills in place to be able to do that.

    And the third thing is just our conditioning.

    We’ve got to really train at match intensity and the pre-season is going to be pretty tough.

    The players are already coming to terms with that — slowly. What have you made of the Perth Spirit and NRC in general?

    Wessels: The NRC is a fantastic competition.

    I actually think the NRC has taken quite a big step up this year in terms of its quality.

    There are a lot of good, young players coming out of that and for us, last year we had a number of guys like Jermaine Ainsley and a number of others that were identified through the NRC.

    So I think the NRC is playing a very important role in terms of talent development and identification in Australia.

    And I think it’s only going to improve from here. You had a brief stint as Force head coach after Michael Foley departed last year. What did you learn from that experience?

    Wessels: I think the biggest thing is just to be yourself.

    I think players respond to you if they feel your interests are genuine and you have their best interests at heart.

    And so I feel if you just be yourself, and if you make an error, just like a player you must be willing to admit that you’ve made that error and you learn from it and you move on.

    And I think that’s the type of environment we want to create, not only for staff but for players.

    It’s always a learning environment and I think part of that is being willing to admit that you’ve made an error and learning from it and growing. Where are you at with completing your playing roster?

    Wessels: We’ve probably got another one or two surprises in the pipeline that will come out in the next couple of days, hopefully.

    But I’m very pleased with the way that the squad is shaping up.

    I feel like we’ve got some nice depth there and certainly Naisarani and Curtis Rona will be great additions for us in particular. What positions are you looking to fill?

    Wessels: We’re looking for some outside backs. It’s easy to talk about playing an attractive style of rugby in pre-season. But do you actually have the cattle to pull that off?

    Wessels: There are probably two things.

    We certainly were unlucky with injuries last year.

    Jono Lance is one example but there were a number of injuries in key positions that counted against us.

    I think the big thing that we did last year is we changed that language that we use in our game.

    So we shifted from a fairly conservative game that was quite successful for us in 2014, to a more attacking-minded game.

    And I understand that it didn’t necessarily work all the time but what we did do is I thought we developed a new language around our game and a new language around our attack.

    And so our players are starting to learn to identify space and I think what’s letting us down at the moment is our ability to actually execute and get to that space.

    And some of that is decision making and some of that is a skill component.

    So those are the two things we’re going to stress in pre-season. There has been a lot of chatter about the future of the Force, who have a small but passionate supporter base. What is the rugby landscape like in Western Australia?

    Wessels: At the end of the season I was lucky enough to receive some interest from other teams.

    And one of the big reasons why I decided to stay in Perth was I felt that there’s something really bubbling away under the surface here.

    If you look at that Brumbies game, the last game of the season, we played seven locally-produced players.

    You look at a guy like Dane Haylett-Petty and what he’s doing with the Wallabies, and then there’s a number of guys who will feature in our squad, who have come through our Future Force program.

    There are a number of things that are happening through our junior levels, that are starting to bear fruit at an elite level.

    And when you think about it, the Force is only 10 years old and the players coming through now, were probably six or seven years old when the Force was founded.

    And so that cycle is just starting to take hold and we’re just starting to see the fruits of that.

    And the second piece is when the team was successful, in the early years when we had some star players, the average crowd was around 28,000.

    So that’s a significant crowd compared to some of the crowds that the other franchises are getting.

    So I actually feel that there’s a community of expats, in particular, here — and local Western Australians — that will really support rugby if we can get things right on the field and play the type of rugby that they can be proud of.

    I guess I’m just really excited by that upside.

    If we can start to produce some outcomes, then I feel like the community is going to get right in behind us.

    There’s something bubbling away just right under the surface that I think is quite exciting. It’s early days — but what are your aims for next season?

    Wessels: I think we want to continue developing our attacking game, that’s our big goal.

    But the key thing for us is that the people of Western Australia really want to feel like we’re their team.

    We want them to be proud of us and that means we’ve got to be brave, we’ve got to be prepared to make mistakes, we’ve got to learn from those mistakes.

    And then we’ve got to embrace the diversity that comes with being Western Australian.

    Which is a community of people from all over Australia but also all over the world.

    I think that’s got to be represented in the way we play.

    And what that looks like, technically, is something we’ll unpack over the next couple of weeks.

    But I really want fans to watch us play and feel like ‘yep, that’s our team.’

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    I already posted this days ago. 😂

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    Yeah TIF....hang on

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    DW said we could have 1 or 2 suprises as far as signings go in a couple of days. Now if someone from the NRC got signed, I wouldn't be what you'd call suprised, no matter who it was.
    Am I the ultimate straw-clutcher or do others hope for something really good?

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    I am hoping that at least one of those two surprises is a player coming back from overseas a la Bill Meakes.

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