Western Force head coach Simon Cron says the culture within the playing group this pre-season is a lot tighter with their progression “10 months ahead” prior to their second Super Rugby Pacific campaign with him in charge.
The Force flew out of Perth on Thursday afternoon for Brisbane where they will take on the Queensland Reds on Saturday 1pm WST in their first pre-season trial game at Ballymore Stadium, with the game live on Stan Sport.
The return to competitive action comes after months of working hard in pre-season training, having not played as a team against opposition since August and September’s Toyota Challenge versus South Africa’s Currie Cup winning Cheetahs.
Cron took over at the Force helm in August 2022, but feels this pre-season the group is well ahead as they build towards their 2024 Super Rugby Pacific opener against the Hurricanes on Friday 23 February.
“This pre-season we’ve been able to be 10 months ahead,” Cron told reporters. “Skill-set has been worked on quite a lot, so we’ve started to implement more structure and systems for them to play the way we want to play as a team.
“Culturally, the boys are a lot tighter. They know each other a lot better, you can see some really cool relationships developing, so for us it’s a different beast.
“Initially when I first came in, some of them probably had a bit of a shock around what we expected and the standards and the expectations in the team.
“Now, that’s not the case. Now the boys drive a lot of that and I can sit back and not be driving those things. We’ve got players in the team now that do that.
“Even Thursday’s training, we’re out there in the sun and the boys are really driving the intensity. We’ll still learn a lot out of this trial.”
The Force will confirm the extended team list for Saturday’s game on Friday morning, but Cron noted off-season recruit and 63-cap Wallaby Nic White wouldn’t play due to a minor shoulder injury.
However, the Force head coach heaped praise on White’s impact around the group despite being limited to non-contact training over the past three weeks.
“Even though Nic White is not playing, he’s heavily involved in structure, systems, rugby brain, on the field and off the field,” Cron said. “Just adding to the boys, challenging everybody to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.
“There’s a number of guys like Dono (Ben Donaldson) is back in now, he gets an opportunity. I’m interested in some of the other boys like Tiaan (Tauakipulu) at tighthead prop, Lopeti (Faifua) at lock, some of our younger 22-21-year-old guys. They’re exciting and we’re looking forward to seeing them play.”
The Force will play two trial games in the lead-up to Round 1, facing the ACT Brumbies on Saturday 10 February from 5pm WST at Revo Fitness Stadium in Claremont.
Cron said he was close to knowing his starting XV for the Round 1 opener, but said there’d be plenty to glean from the pre-season games.
“We’re still working that out,” Cron said. “We’re a long way towards who we think will be there (in Round 1).
“But there’s also a couple of last positions, like who is secondary position? Who would move to that position if there’s injury? Making sure we’ve got a bit of depth in each position rather than being unsure who we’re going to put there.”
Tickets went on sale at 10am WST Thursday 1 February for the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season via ticketmaster.com.au. Get yours today!