Interview of Richard Graham, Western Force head coach
– What are your main objectives for this season?
The main objective coming into the season was to change the expectation we had on ourselves and our teammates. We are working hard on and off the field to ensure this happens.
– Just like last season, the Western Force is facing a serious situation where you have to deal with a lot of injuries which are impacting your key players. How does that affect your team’s overall team’s performance?
It can have huge ramifications on the sustainable success of an organisation. One of the challenges we all face in a collision sport is to keep your perceivably best team on the field throughout the season. Easier said than done at times! The most important thing I can do is ‘ control the controllables’. For us as an organisation that means preparing the players well physically and plan well so you limit the number of soft tissue injuries sustained during the year. On the back of that is to ensure any injuries (soft tissue or contact) are dealt with immediately and put in place a detailed outline between all departments so we get the player back ASAP and in optimal condition.
– We have noticed that many of your players are excellent utility backs and they can easily jump from a position to another. Do you believe that utility backs are becoming more important than players which are seen as real specialists at their position? What are the key qualities required to become a great utility back?
I think the term ‘utility back’ can now be misconceived. For me a utility is someone like James O’Connor or Kurtley Beale who have the ability to play in either the front line or the backfield. Players playing wing / fullback are not what I would describe in that same category. Some teams are fortunate to have ‘utility backs’ and their value is enormous. The key qualities are an appreciation of time and space, and a toughness to defend well in any position.
– Unfortunately, rugby Sevens is under-rated in France. As a former Sevens representative and Wallabies skills coach, how do you rate the importance of Sevens in the development of young rugby union players skills?
It is a brilliant game to develop a host of skills, however I am a strong believer that a player should only be in a program for 12 months if they wish to excel at the XV’s. Spacial awareness and collision skills are key components of the 7-a-side game that transfer directly to the XV’s. A lot of coaches don’t realise the value, however it is my opinion they are short sighted. Look at the number of players that started in a 7’s program and have continued to be leading players in the longer format of the game.
– Most of your non-international players play for Shute Shield teams when Super Rugby season is over. Would you prefer them to play for the Perth Premier Grade in order to improve the overall level of the competition?
It is something I am dealing with at the moment. Historically players have finished the Super season and returned immediately to the east coast. I need to find the balance of what is best for the Perth community and what is best for the individual. Non selected players will play in the local competition throughout Super Rugby.
– The Melbourne Rebels are now your competitor to hire the best “rookies” from Sydney and Brisbane club teams. Do you believe that we will be able to see more players such as Kieran Longbottom which are born and raised in Western Australia in the Super 15?
I think you will. An important part of my role is to establish a strong link between the professional and community rugby arms in Perth. We have a clear strategic plan to develop the best young players here in Perth without them having to go elsewhere. With for the help of RugbyWA I have introduced a Force ‘A’ program that has included 17 local players. Dwayne Nestor who runs our Academy and Junior Gold program has done a wonderful job at improving the quality of our local juniors. It will take time, however in the years to come I believe you’ll see more Perth locals playing Super Rugby.
– How is the evolution of rugby union’s popularity compared to footy and soccer in Perth?
We have our challenges, however rugby has a very strong following in West Australia. A move to a rectangular stadium in 2010 has bought the supporters closer to the action and the feedback the organisation has received has been hugely positive. Whilst AFL is the dominant code in the State we have differentiated ourselves which has become appealing to supporters, corporates and sponsors. Our organisation works very hard to attract supporters, the community and sponsors and then to keep then actively engaged.
– Many rugby nations believe that Australian rugby has many deficiencies in its scrum techniques. Did you receive any directives from the ARU in order to improve this part of the game?
None. You cannot bury your head in the sand and deny we have had our problems in the past, however a new wave of young front row forwards have come into the game recently. The more they are exposed to top level rugby, the better they will become. I also believe the more the young players train with older front row forwards, the better they will develop.
– For the past few years, the French championship has been trying to attract all the talented Australian players. What is your opinion of this trend? Has the Western Force set a few strategies in place to stop this migration to Europe?
I spent 7 years in the UK and enjoyed my time with Bath and Saracens. I can definitely see the attraction players have in trying their hand in Europe. It is difficult to compete at times with the money being offered, however if you can put a strong rugby program in place then you may hold onto someone for a little longer.
– Do you think Australia will win its third world cup this year?
I think Australia will be in a strong position to compete at the pointy end of the tournament. Robbie made a decision 3 years ago to change the playing group and it is paying dividends. He will need to keep his best players fit.