The Western Force have named their team for Friday’s match-up with the Brumbies and as flagged earlier in the week, Mark Bartholomeusz is the new black.
He was recruited by the Force as a utility to provide backup at fullback and for Andre Pretorius at flyhalf – that he’s now the first choice No 10 is an unexpected elevation; however, this guy is no mug.
Although he’s been plying his trade in Europe since 2004 primarily at the top level, he’ll notice the difference coming from Petraca Padova in the Super 10 up a few notches to the Super 14.
Bart’s played at flyhalf at various times throughout his career and the only question mark will be his ability to go the distance back at this level.
There are a few mild surprises in the team announced today but most of it has been telegraphed in the trials.
James O’Connor has been selected at fullback. With Nick Cummins and Haig Sare out with injury they’re missing experienced outside backs so Cameron Shepherd reverts to wing to provide cover.
With solid inside centre Sam Harris recruited over the summer it’s understandable that Rabbit O’Connor has been consigned to the fullback role.
The Force will miss his attacking brilliance at 12 but I guess this is a ‘needs must’ situation. Expect to see him closer in as the season progresses.
Pek Cowan continues his education at hooker where he looked surprisingly capable the other day against the Reds.
John Mitchell indicated earlier that he didn’t want to use Cowan as a hooker if he could avoid it but with his recruiting strategies foiled he probably doesn’t have much choice.
Bookends Nic Henderson and Tucky Dunning join him in the front row.
The talented Wykes is selected over Tom Hockings at lock who doesn’t even make it to the bench.
Richard Stanford is the surprise reserve second rower but it may be that his utility status gets him the nod.
The bench actually has a very inexperienced look about it so let’s hope they can keep their First XV on the park.
The Brumbies may reportedly have a ‘test quality pack’ but anyone that takes the beefed-up Force forwards lightly will get their comeuppance.
For example, they were completely dominant last week in the set piece and at the breakdown against the Reds, admittedly in a trial only, but for all intents and purposes they were fairly close to First XV selections.
There are seven players in the pack who are or have been internationals at some stage or other including Captain Sharpe, who’s playing his 5oth match for the franchise.
The mouth watering highlight will be the battle at the breakdown between two sets of international loose forwards.
It doesn’t get any better than now retired Wallaby St George Smith against ‘the King is dead, long live the King’ Bam Bam Pocock (new vc).
Not only that, some of the backline match-ups will be interesting with Matt Giteau (if he passes a fitness test) up against Bart, Lealiifaino against the direct running Harris and Mortlock v Cross.
I think the Force will be very keen to come away with a win at their new stadium and lay down a marker for future home matches, which have been a bit of a bogey for them in the past.
Sharpe’s challenge will be to maintain the rage from last year when they defeated the other three Australian provinces.
A successful year will make it a whole lot easier to retain some of those players who may be sniffing the breeze from the Garden State and other tropical locations.
Western Force v Brumbies:
Nic Henderson, Pek Cowan, Matt Dunning, Sam Wykes, Nathan Sharpe (c), Matt Hodgson, David Pocock (vc), Richard Brown, Brett Sheehan, Mark Bartholomeusz, Cameron Shepherd, Sam Harris, Ryan Cross, Dane Haylett-Petty, James O’Connor
Reserves: Ben Whittaker, Tim Fairbrother, Richard Stanford, Ben McCalman, Chris O’Young, Mitch Inman, Josh Tatupu