Western Force Season Review 2011 – Part III
By Paul Cook with Rory Sidey
Our Western Force 2011 review closes with Rory Sidey. After two stints with the Waratahs – either side of a year in Wales – failed to provide regular football, the bustling 6ft 2in centre answered the call of the West at the end of 2010. After an early season suspension, he eventually grabbed his opportunity for a starting spot with both hands, proving his worth by appearing on either wing and in both centre positions before cementing a starting role at inside centre. Four tries in thirteen appearances and some solid, no-nonsense defence raised the 25yr old’s profile to new levels and he’s definitely on the ‘one to watch’ list when the new season gets underway. He takes us from week thirteen to the end of the season…
Week Thirteen – BYE
Week Fourteen – Force 13 Brumbies 13
RuggaMatrix: You came in to this one off the bye while the Brumbies came in off the back of Tony Rea’s infamous post match spray the week before. They were underdogs as a result but you must have been wary of a backlash?
Rory Sidey: “We knew that they were going to be fired up for this game, especially with all the press that they’d been getting the previous week and when you’ve got a side with Matt Giteau running the show, it’s always a side to be wary of. They’ve got a lot of quality players there but we were quietly confident and looking back, I’d say it was a disappointing result for us to only come away with a draw.
“We were confident going into it, we had many more hands on deck fitness wise and it came after our bye week so we were refreshed. We had a solid week’s training behind us – almost a mini pre-season – and to stay involved in the later stages of the season, we needed the win. I thought for the most part that we dominated that game and we feel that we should have won it, so it was frustrating to get another draw. We kept talking about close losses across the season and what could have happened or what could have been and that was just another one of those games.”
RM: You had 90% possession in the second half and James O’Connor missed a drop kick to win it in the dying moments so you had your chances?
RS: “Yeah, you keep hoping that some day, the ball bounces your way and you have a little bit of luck but you don’t get too much of that in a season. We had all the possession and made plenty of inroads, it was just that last fifteen metres and getting over that try line that was eluding us.”
RM: You procured only two wins from eight local derbies across the season – do you think there was any specific reason why you struggled in those games?
RS: “It was a season where we lost the close games and every time you play a derby against an Australian side, it’s going to be a close game. So, when you’re not clinical in those close ones and not able to grind out the wins, you’re going to struggle in the derbies and we just didn’t have enough.
“If you look at the two games against the Reds, we virtually lost those on the bell, against the Brumbies – a draw, the Waratahs over there – we should have won, the Rebels at home – we should have won that match but lost it at the end. These were games we were good enough to win and it hurt us, especially in the new conference format. It’s something we’re going to have to address as a team and I’m sure Richard Graham was in the office for the entire off-season trying to figure out the best way for us to turn those around.”
RM: You went into this one with a depleted side – no James O’ Connor, no Brett Sheehan, no Willie Ripia – but led at half-time and again with 20 minutes to go through some brilliant attacking rugby, only for an Aaron Cruden inspired Canes to come over the top of you in the final minutes. Missed opportunity?
RS: “Leading up to that game was probably the most interesting week all season but enjoyable at the same time because we had so many injuries after that Brumbies game and we showed up to the airport to head to New Zealand with so many different faces. We were going there wondering who would be the five-eighth and we got told on the bus of the halves combination before the actual team announcement – Mark Swanepoel and James Stannard – and I think we thought, ‘Let’s just go out and play some footy. We’ve got a new five eighth and a new half-back so let’s keep it simple, go out there and have fun. No-one’s expecting us to do anything so let’s prove them wrong’ and I think that game was the most exciting rugby that we’ve played to date.”
RM: It was a travesty that you lost really, you outplayed them for large parts of the match and you mixed it up a bit as well. James Stannard injected some real pace into your game but you weren’t shy of the pick and drive too?
RS: “That’s exactly right and internally, those were the things that we took out of the game. In previous games, we hadn’t been putting onto the paddock all the things we’d been training to do and we hadn’t really had the balance between playing off nine and playing off ten and with the forwards running the ball and the backs running the ball. It was something that we really focused on and I think that was the first game it finally clicked and as fifteen players on the field, we really had that balance going well, really playing together and getting some variety into our game.
“When we started doing things on the field that we were doing on the training ground and seeing them come to fruition and seeing them actually work, that gave us confidence for the games that followed. Considering we were playing well and enjoying being out there, it was very frustrating to lose. Cruden produced two moments of magic and that was the game – very frustrating.”
RM: Taking positives from it, to go to New Zealand with a depleted squad and an untried halves combination and play that well – despite losing – must be a great fillip for the future and in particular, for the reputation of James Stannard?
RS: “It did and if we hadn’t had those injuries, James Stannard would never have been put at ten – you just think of him as a halfback – and Mark Swanepoel might not have featured all season so it was good to see them take their opportunities. With ‘Chucky’ [Stannard], it’s great to see that we have another legitimate option at ten for this year.”
RM: Canes centre Ma’a Nonu is a bit of a freak of nature – relatively quiet for the whole game but fires up twice and gets two tries. He must be hard to play against when he’s on his game?
RS: “I don’t know if I scared him or something but there were a few times where he had the ball in hand and he was my man to tackle and he passed the ball! He didn’t really take the line on too many times but obviously, he got a couple of tries that were the result of really good support play. They were running good switch lines and no matter what, himself and Conrad Smith are the All Black centres so it was a good challenge and I thought we did quite well but just not quite enough at the end to get the victory.”
RM: For yourself, trying to cement a centre spot in the side, is that a player you relish coming up against – a chance to test yourself against one of the best in the business?
RS: “Exactly, especially going into that twelve jersey, he’s one of the best in the game so you can learn a lot from him and you always learn when you’re playing against the best. I remember playing at outside centre against Brian O’Driscoll for the Newport Dragons against Leinster when I was over in Wales and that was a game I really relished as well. These are some great experiences that I’ve been blessed with personally and you learn from them and hopefully, can use them to improve yourself as a player.”
Week Sixteen – Highlanders 14 Force 21
RM: A trip to the House of Pain is never easy, particularly last season when the Highlanders were a vastly improved outfit and were challenging for finals footy but – as with the previous week – a depleted Force outfit dominated for large parts of the game and this time you got your just reward?
RS: “Yeah, we were playing well but just not scoring but we did have confidence in ourselves and we knew that when we held the ball, we were going to make inroads. We were holding the ball for a little bit but then conceding turnovers, penalties and knock-ons so we knew that in the second half, all we had to do was have a little more composure and if we stayed with our structures, there were gaps opening up.”
RM: A win in New Zealand for an Australian side can be as rare as hen’s teeth and this was the Force’s first ever win in the Shaky Isles so a real reason to celebrate?
RS: “That was actually the first win by an Australian team on New Zealand soil last season so that was something we prided ourselves on and yes, that was our first win over there so a big moment for the club.”
RM: And a win against a team aiming for finals footy. It’s these type of victories that will stand you in good stead for the future isn’t it. If you’ve done it once, there’s no reason why you can’t do it again?
RS: “You’re right. We played a very similar style to the Hurricanes game the week before and I think that helped us, we continued to grow from that last performance but they had everything to play for, they were in finals contention. We were there for over a week beforehand after staying on following the Hurricanes match and we spent a lot of time in Dunedin and all the press there was about their change strip of emerald green and not about their finals aspirations.”
RM: Well – it was awful!
RS: “Yeah, I think that was the one and only time they wore it!”
Week Seventeen – Force 21 Reds 24
RM: A case of déjà vu as you led for most of the match before a late try saw the Reds home but the fact that you pushed the eventual champions so close – again – shows that you’re not that far away from being a top side?
RS: “It does. Two years ago, the Reds had the same playing squad but they weren’t the team they are now so you take confidence from that but again, this was one we definitely should have won. We were dominating and both their tries were opportunist tries – one an intercept for Quade Cooper from one of my passes, the other a ball that popped out the side of the scrum on our own feed – so, it was frustrating.”
RM: On a personal level, this was a memorable game for yourself with two tries and two assists – one for the Force and one for the Reds as you’ve mentioned! – but despite the intercept, was it one of your best performances for the Force, especially given the level of opposition?
RS: “It was and I took a lot of confidence from that game, I was really looking to get involved and I enjoyed myself. It was my first double in Super Rugby but I still know I have a lot more to give, I’m happy with the efforts of myself and the whole team but it’s kind of marred when you lose a game like that. You don’t really look back at individual performances, you just look back at a frustrating loss.”
RM: Another positive to take from this game was the quality of David Pocock’s captaincy when Nathan Sharpe went off. A good pointer for his new role this year and for when ‘Sharpie’ hangs up the boots at the end of this season?
RS: “Yeah, I suppose you can take a positive out of the fact that we lost a player of the calibre of Nathan Sharpe but then you’ve got David Pocock to step up, a guy who’s going to be the best player in the world, if he isn’t already. We should still have won the game with or without Nathan and it was good to get the win the next week without him, it showed that we could. In terms of ‘Poey’, he’s still a young bloke but in terms of his rugby experience, he’s an old man and he’s very well respected. He has that natural leadership where, if he says something, everyone else listens.”
RM: We’ve mentioned the narrow losses that plagued you all season, I think you would have won something like five or six more games if the whistle had blown in the 65th minute. Is that down to concentration, fitness or the lack of a killer instinct?
RS: “I’d probably have to say killer instinct. It’s not fitness because we have a lot of very hard working players in every position and if you look at each individual, there’s a lot of class there and a lot of good rugby minds so I wouldn’t say it was concentration either.
“The Western Force as a province so far, hasn’t had the success that it should have had with the calibre of players they’ve had. They’re always pushing forward and playing good rugby but in terms of actual hard results, they just haven’t had it so far and I think that could play a part in the ‘killer instinct’ theory. We’re showing that we can play the rugby, next year we just have to show that we can win the games.”
RM: Winning’s a habit isn’t it?
RS: “It is and that ‘s what we kept saying, we just didn’t get enough back to back wins to get that roll on.”
Week Eighteen – Rebels 24 Force 27
RM: The season ended in a positive manner with only a Willie Ripia penalty separating the sides at the final whistle in what turned out to be a tight affair. Great to finish on a high?
RS: “It was. You always want to finish on a high when you’ve had a frustrating season and going into that last game, we weren’t thinking about anything other than winning – regardless of what it actually means on the table. We played some good rugby and started strongly again but took our foot off the gas and we could have been victims of a close loss at the end once more but we got together as a team and said ‘Nah, this isn’t happening again’ and we finished the way we want to start this year, by winning.”
RM: Some sweet revenge for the home loss to the Rebels as well?
RS: “It was, we were definitely thinking about that game too. We’d started strongly in that game but got a bit cocky and took our foot off the accelerator and they came back and we were guilty of starting to do that again in this one but we recognised it happening and switched back on and were clinical and smart in seeing out the win.”
RM: They picked up three wins for the year, which was good or bad depending on who you asked but they have got a talented roster, the Rebels?
RS: “They do but as a new side, it’s going to take time to gel and to get that chemistry, regardless of the players you have. They’ve got a magnificent stadium down there and a vocal crowd which is an asset for the team and similar to what we’re lucky enough to have here in Perth with our great home crowd and the ‘Sea of Blue’.”
RM: How was your first year in Perth – pleased to make the move and get some more regular football?
RS: “It’s been a positive move when I look back on it and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to come here. I’m happy, I love the town, the place, the training and the team. It was a bit of a rollercoaster year – it obviously wasn’t a great start with the red card against the Sharks – but you know, that’s something to put in the autobiography! I sat down after that and thought ‘It can’t get much worse from here’ and when I came back after suspension, I was fully focused. I was in and out of the side and playing on the wing at first but towards the end, I got my shot in the centres. I really liked it at twelve and I could see myself there for the future.”
RM: You’re more renowned as a centre but as you said, played a bit on the wing too, was that a tactical move from the coaches or was it a question of covering any position as and when required?
RS: “I do classify myself as a centre/wing but it was more about getting players on the paddock that were available. I played once at eleven and I think I had another game at fourteen so wing is another position I can play but obviously, centre’s my preferred position.”
RM: I guess it’s a case of being happy with any shirt if you’re in the run on side?
RS: “Yeah, it’s the generic answer for that question but every player has their preferred positions where they feel the most comfortable and where they feel they can give to the team the most and for me, that’s in the centre’s. Then it becomes a case of twelve or thirteen – which number do you prefer on your back – and going into the season I probably would’ve said thirteen but now I probably lean more towards twelve. I have a bit of a passing game as well and I really enjoy being able to make the most of that at inside centre.”
RM: Every rugby team is beset by injuries, it’s the nature of the beast but the Force seem to have had a crueller run than most over the last few years. You never seem to be able to get your best fifteen on the paddock for any great length of time?
RS: “It’s frustrating because we have such a good physio and medical staff and strength and conditioning staff and they do a lot of concentration on prehab and it’s testament to them that during pre-season we were training really hard and we only had one very minor muscular injury towards the end of it so when it comes to prehab and injury prevention, I think we’re at the top of the game. Then you get into the season and we’ve just had a lot of those injuries that you can’t do anything about like knees and ankles, which are a by-product of the physicality at the breakdown and contest areas and I don’t know what you can do about that?”
RM: 2012 – what are your hopes and targets?
RS: “As a team – turning those close losses into close wins and then into even bigger wins and hopefully, some success. Personally, the first target is to help the Western Force and try to give as much to the team as possible and become a regular fixture – maybe in the twelve jersey – but anywhere in the team. I’d also like to make it a goal of mine to push for a gold jersey [Wallaby] as well. That’s always been my ultimate goal and I know I have it in me, but first you’ve got to put yourself in that shop window, so I want to get a regular start and carry on where I left off last year and just go up from there.”