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Foley drops the F-word
Foley drops the F-word

Western Force coach Michael Foley does not throw out quotes that make screaming headlines or deliver sensational statements to add drama to quick TV grabs.

Everything is delivered with consideration and lengthy explanation. But when asked if reaching this year's Super Rugby finals was a realistic expectation, he replied: "If you are asking me to make that decision on behalf of the team I would say absolutely yes."

He may not quite have committed himself totally but it is still a pretty big statement from someone who says he does not make empty promises.

Right now the Force seem to be a very long shot to make those play-offs but Foley says finals may have seemed like a distant view in the past because players were being told what they could not do or achieve rather than what they were capable of doing.

"Players have set goals for the year, they are very personal to the team, but finishing better than last year is a given," Foley said.

"The goals that we have privately set are reflective of that. We want to be in the contest to win it, not just to compete."

Bettering the 2008 record of seven victories to finish in eighth spot should be top of the wish list. Leapfrogging one or two Australian teams in their conference should be there too.

A good start in the first three rounds against Australian opposition, away to the Waratahs and then home to the Brumbies and Rebels, is crucial before the hit-and-run trip to the Highlanders in Dunedin.

A priority for Foley is teaching his side how to close out games and, while it might be stating the obvious, they need to find ways of scoring more points.

Last year they led nine times at the break and lost five games by seven points or less. If they are going to be a contender those are the games they must win.

"Nine games we led at half-time, that suggests that we were doing pretty well for 40 minutes of the game, but in a number of those games we clearly didn't convert," Foley said.

"You win nine games in this competition, you're sitting mid-table rather than bottom third. We've improved personnel, we've improved understanding but I come back to improving the attitude that it's going to require."

Player passion cannot be faulted but endeavour alone does not win games, points on the board does that, and statistics show that teams that make the semifinals generally score around 42 tries. The Force scored only 26 last year.

"In very simple terms 26 tries for the season is not good enough," Foley said.

"On the other hand teams that make the finals have 31 tries against them. Last year we had 34 scored against us. Our defence and the character that was shown in that aspect last year is a bedrock for us to work off."

Two of the biggest challenges facing Foley are halves combination and the outside centre spot.

He needs the No.10 to control the game, implement the match plan and operate calmly in areas where decision making is crucial.

If Brumbies recruit Zack Holmes is chosen ahead of Sias Ebersohn he will become the 21st fly-half used by the Force in their brief history.

The Force may not be as star-studded as some sides but Foley has made some interesting signings like flier Luke Morahan from the Queensland Reds and hard-nosed South African second-rower Wilhelm Steenkamp.

"We've got a group of players that are humble, disappointed that they probably have not achieved more, and are determined to do so," Foley said.

"There is a determination that is slowly but surely growing."