An interesting read from Mark Ella

Force let a big one get away
Mark Ella, March 10, 2008

Force let a big one get away | The Australian

The Western Force will be extremely disappointed that they let another important match slip from their fingers to lose 29-24 against the Crusaders in Perth after leading for much of the game.

But as the tough times of last year fade Australian rugby is gradually beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

The gutsy performance by the Force against one of the best teams in Super rugby history won’t go un-noticed with Crusaders coach Robbie Deans taking over the Wallabies role in June.

For the most of the match the Force took the leading hand and all but had the game won when centre Lachlan MacKay scored to give the Force a commanding lead of 24-12 after 50 minutes of play.

But as we all know you can never ever write the Crusaders off particularly towards the back end of games when they lift their tempo and put the squeeze on their opposition.

What followed shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

An avalanche of tries to the Crusaders in the 54th, 57th and 68th minutes ensured their victory over the Force which could have been greater if five eighth Dan Carter had a better day with the boot.

Credit must be given to the Force for not letting the Crusaders dictate the game when the Force forgot about reputations and attacked them with confidence right from the kick-off.

With five eighth Matt Giteau directing play every Force player was in the game and their support play and backing up just superb.

Giteau had a busy day against the Crusaders but his opponent Daniel Carter was rather quiet, perhaps due to the high quality of players around him but Carter certainly wasn’t as involved in the game as we normally expect him to be.

They was no doubt that the Force’s back row was all over their much fancier rivals with Scott Fava, Richard Brown and David Pocock dominating the breakdown not to mention a couple of great first half tries to both Brown and Pocock.

Centre Ryan Cross was another player to stamp his credentials in front of the next Wallaby coach with a great step after taking an inside ball from Giteau to completely bamboozle the Crusaders defense to score under the posts.

Robbie Deans will be looking for players with flair and instinct and Cross is slowly beginning to show why he was chosen as an Australian Schoolboy representative a few years back.

Given the right opportunity with a commanding play-maker like Giteau, Cross can become a very good Wallaby outside centre because he doesn’t have too many weaknesses in his game.

Full back Cameron Shepherd also played well as did inside centre Lachlan MacKay who hasn’t played must rugby over the years due to injury but their coach John Mitchell will be satisfied with their performance because his squad is starting to have some real strength and importantly depth.

Deans would have taken heart after yesterday’s game.

In one sense he will obviously be happy that his team the Crusaders won another big game away from home and secondly, the talent and determination coming from the Australian teams in recent weeks.

After an ordinary season in 2007 where it was apparent that the skill levels of our players wasn’t up to scratch we have seen some sleight of hand between forwards and backs and perhaps our coaches are finally getting the message.

Last week the Brumbies played some entertaining rugby against the Reds in Canberra, albeit not the most enlightening team in the competition right now but still the match announced the arrival of our next generation of players.

The Waratahs showed character against the Brumbies on Friday night to win 24-17 but they are yet to hit form and after their scheduled bye round next week will be severely tested again against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

Yesterday the ball control from the Force, for the first 50 minutes anyway, was fantastic and it was like watching the Crusaders playing against themselves because it was that good.

John Mitchell has done a great job with them after a tumultuous start to the year and if they play with the same commitment they will figure in the finals at the end of the season.

This year’s Super 14 may be following the same old pattern that we have had for the last few years but what I find interesting in 2008 is the number of new players coming through the ranks to finally get a break in elite rugby.

The contributions of past players like George Gregan and Stephen Larkham will never be forgotten but the game is finally starting to have a newer, fresher feel to it with a bunch of kids straight out of school plying their trade.

Many of these youngsters will represent Australia over the next couple of years and as long as they get plenty of game time at Super 14 level the easier it will be for coaches like Deans to help them finish their apprenticeships.

The only team letting the country down at the moment is the Reds who lost again on the weekends to the Stormers 34-16 making it one from four.

As hard as it may be Reds coach Phil Mooney at this moment he has to be patient because their fortunes won’t turn around by sheer luck, only hard work and perseverance will reward his players.

But I am enjoying watching so many fine young players who may not necessarily win us games but at least Australian rugby has a future with a good coach in Robbie Deans to show them the way.