New Western Force coach Dave Wessels is adamant his age won’t be a drawback as he attempts to make the Perth-based franchise relevant again.
Wessels has been appointed head coach on a two-year deal, with the 33-year-old the youngest coach in Super Rugby ranks.
And in a quirk rarely seen in top-level sport, Wessels will be younger than the team’s captain; 35-year-old flanker Matt Hodgson.
Hodgson’s future was up in the air once Michael Foley was sacked as Force coach in June.
But Wessels confirmed on Wednesday that Hodgson would play on next year.
As part of Hodgson’s new deal, he’ll be offered a role as part of the team’s support or coaching staff once his playing days end.
The Force were initially expected to lure a high-profile coach to replace Foley in a bid to promote the ailing club.
But Wessels’ intimate knowledge of the Force – combined with the strong support of the player group – got him over the line.
Wessels started his professional coaching career as a 25-year-old in 2008 when he joined the Stormers as a defence consultant.
He also spent time at the University of Cape Town, before linking with Jake White at the Brumbies in 2012.
Wessels joined the Force in 2013, and was named interim head coach for the final three games of last season after Foley was sacked.
Despite his young age, Wessels is adamant he’s ready to take on the responsibility of being a head coach.
“In this job, you age a lot quicker than normal. It’s the opposite of the Benjamin Button effect,” Wessels joked.
“So by the end of next week, I’ll be in my mid-50s, and no one will bring it up again.”
Most senior coaches first carved out successful playing careers.
But it wasn’t the case for the South African-born Wessels, who plied his trade in lower ranks before turning to coaching.
“I was pretty terrible as a player,” Wessels said.
“Our (team’s) nickname was actually the ice breakers, because we used to play so early in the morning, and our job was to clear the frost for the rest of the guys.
“So I realised pretty early on that I wasn’t going to be a (professional) player. But I guess the benefit of that is I’ve coached for a long time.”
The Force’s long-term future is still far from secure despite forming an alliance with the Australian Rugby Union earlier this year.
The alliance, which was effectively a bailout, has bought the Force some time.
But if they can’t turn around their on and off field results in time for the next TV rights deal in 2021, they could be cut from the competition.
The Force attracted huge crowds when they entered the competition in 2006.
But 10 seasons without a finals appearance have seen crowds dwindle in recent years.
The Force won just two games last season, and only three the year before.
Chief executive Mark Sinderberry says turning around the club’s on-field fortunes will bring the crowds back and boost the club’s financial position.