Interview of Richard Graham, Western Force head coach

Richard Graham

Following the first interview at the beginning of the 2011 Super Rugby season, Richard Graham accepted answering my questions another time about last season’s achievements and about his new expectations for 2012.

Now that the Super Rugby season is over, what are the improvements that you’ve noticed from your team and which areas need to be focused on? Did you fulfill all the objectives set at the beginning of the season?

Following the 2011 Super Rugby season, I see 3 main areas of improvement here at the Force.

1. Culture – we have worked hard to make positive change. Players understand who they represent, ways we can influence people positively and that we are a privileged group.
2. Work ethic / understanding professionalism – there has been a significant shift amongst the group as to what it is to work hard and the discipline required to be a professional athlete.
3. Team – the group is understanding that they need to ‘play as a team and be prepared to pay the same price’.

Obviously we failed to fulfil all of our objectives as we finished the season 12th. We wanted to finish in the top half of the table but see the close losses and draws as part of our learning and development.

What will be your main activities while waiting for the new season of Super Rugby? How will you follow players that will not be on international duties?

The main thing will be keeping the players involved in fulltime training and playing. It is important we use this period as time for physical and skill improvement. Our tour to Samoa was a great test for the squad without our regular leaders and Wallabies available. It gave us a clear insight into who is capable of travelling for long periods, playing a Test side and able to maintain their own standards along the way.

Do you believe that James O’Connor’s transfer saga during the season had some effects on the team?

Not at all. I think we compartmentalised it very well as a group and that was evidenced by our late season performances. I do think we as an organisation can learn from it and importantly make sure we deal appropriately with each case going forward.

Napolioni Nalaga

Obviously O’Connor’s departure is going to have an important impact in terms of strategy. Are you going to bring some large modifications to your tactics or are you just simply going to replace him by a player with the similar abilities?

James is a good footballer but we won games without him and will continue to grow as an organisation. He departure means someone else will be forced to develop and grow quickly in the team. The way we want to play the game will remain relatively the same, however it may mean we introduce small changes tactically in the way that we play.

Napolioni Nalaga will be a perfect replacement for David Smith. His try scoring feats are well documented in France and he will be a fans’ favourite in Super Rugby. At 105kg and 191cm, he is a big man who moves well. From all of my research he is a good person and will work hard in the team environment.

Salesi Ma'afu

With the loss of Dunning and Fairbrother at the front row, the team will start next season with unexperienced young guns. Could this be a weakness or do you believe they have the maturity required to face the challenge?

Dunning and Fairbrother have a lot of experience and that is never easy to replace, however Ma’afu is a Wallaby and Faulkner a very exciting prospect. Along with Sharpe, Hodgson, Brown, Cowan, Pocock, McCalman and new signing Toby Lynn, they will enjoy the challenge of making us a better forward pack in 2012. (see the Western Force provisional squad for 2012)

The new conference system has faced many critics that originated from NZ and RSA. According to them, the Australian conference is too weak which could give an advantage to the Reds and the Waratahs. Do you have anything to say to that?

It is a ridiculous comment. The Reds won Super Rugby and along the way beat every SA and NZ side with exception of the Hurricanes. The Australian conference provided some extremely combative fixtures and high quality rugby. In my opinion the conference system was a resounding success.

Nib Stadium

The Western Force is about to move into its new Perth Stadium. A couple of years ago, you decided that a rectangular structure would suit best your needs. Now you’re about to go back into an Oval shaped stadium, isn’t a bit risky even with a bigger capacity?

No, that isn’t going to happen. We are committed at nib Stadium (rectangular stadium) which provides our wonderful supporters with one of the best viewing grounds in Australia. There are plans to redevelop the stadium in the 2012 – 13 off season, however we don’t believe this will affect our preparation or season at any stage. It will remain around the 20 – 25 thousand mark and provide better facilities for our #seaofblue to enjoy.

I’m sure that you’re delighted about the Saracens winning the English Premiership. Were you expecting this kind of achievement from them this year?

A lot of the staff and players I worked with are still at the club. I was really pleased to see them do well and on the back of their form in 2009 – 2010, they continued that consistency through to their Premiership last season. It is a credit to the playing group that young Owen Farrell fitted in so well and performed at the level he did. Instead of being the hunter in 2011 – 2012, they now become the hunted and it will be great to see how they handle the new challenge.

Do you believe the success of the Queensland Reds can benefit the whole Australian rugby community?

Yes. It is very simple in Australia. Our rugby strongholds are Queensland and NSW and whilst they do well, rugby in general does well ie. the sport is well supported and the media coverage is robust.