Last to first: the man in charge of remarkable Rebels' rise
EYEBROWS were raised when Dave Wessels got handed the Force gig.
He was relatively unknown to the casual rugby fan and there were suggestions from some quarters that Rugby Australia had opted for a cost-effective coaching option, rather than finding the best man for the job.
Turns out they nailed it.
At the time of the appointment, RA spoke glowingly of Wessels' impressive interview performance and the high esteem he was held in by Force players for his work as an assistant to Michael Foley.
But even so, few could have predicted the sharp ascent of Wessels' coaching stocks, as he first led a Force squad of modest talent to second in the Australian Super Rugby conference last year while dealing with agonising uncertainty and fear, before the club was eventually cut from the competition.
Wessels was then the obvious fit at the Rebels once Tony McGahan stepped aside and, incredibly, last season's wooden spooners are top of the overall standings after six rounds.
"I've got to give him a lot of credit for that because I don't think many people would have predicted that," said former Springboks five-eighth Peter Grant, who played under Wessels at the Force and worked with him way back in 2008 at the Stormers.
"He's a deep thinker and he loves the game of rugby.
"He's worked really hard to get where he's at now.
"But circumstances were against him. He had a core group from the Force that went with him to the Rebels but he didn't have the whole team from the year before.
"So I am quite surprised at how well they've been doing.
"Obviously I wanted them to do well and, man, he's just gone out there and the Rebels are looking like a real force at the moment, the team to beat."
The Rebels have a 4-1 record and are preparing for an intriguing test against the Hurricanes in Melbourne on Friday - the first trans-Tasman matchup of the season.
Sportsbet.com.au have the Hurricanes as $2.70 title favourites, while the Rebels are at $17 after a 2017 season in which Australian teams went 0-26 against their New Zealand rivals.
Wessels told the Fox Rugby Podcast the Kiwi drought had not been discussed among the Rebels, who were instead focused on performing to their maximum capacity.
But Grant told foxsports.com.au that Wessels was meticulous in breaking down the opposition, who this week are headlined by the Barrett brothers, Beauden and Jordie.
"He's got quite a technical side to him as well," Grant said.
"He's got good plans, whoever he's up against, but at the Force it was more looking at what are our strengths going to be going into that next game.
"He's also really good at managing his players. I think that's pretty important, especially in his situation there, a new environment and getting the guys to play for each other.
"I think he's managed to get that pretty spot on and he also makes it exciting, enjoyable.
"That's key - we did a lot of that last year with the Force and the coaching staff that he's got there, they keep things interesting and exciting and make sure the guys are enjoying themselves."
Born in Cape Town, Wessels was an enthusiastic rugby player but realised early on that he was unlikely to cut it at the top level and instead set his sights on coaching.
He cut his teeth under now Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus at the Stormers and also worked under Jake White, Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher at the Brumbies before setting up camp in Western Australia.
There are parallels with New Zealand cricket coach Mike Hesson, another quiet achiever who has steadily built a strong reputation as a tireless worker behind the scenes.
It's a sharp contrast to Reds coach Brad Thorn, who commanded immediate respect by virtue of his incredible on-field feats.
"You'd probably find he has had to work a bit harder," Grant said of Wessels' journey.
"By the time he coached me at the Force he'd been in quite a few coaching roles and he'd definitely earned respect by that point.
"Even though he was still quite young, he was really up for it and I was encouraging him from the get-go, to definitely try and take that opportunity at the Force.
"I believed in him and I think a lot of the players believed in him.
"One of his strengths is making sure the players are on his side.
"It's obviously different, not coming through as a player but he's certainly earned his stripes."
Grant said another of Wessels' valuable attributes was staying cool, calm and collected in times of high stress and delivering consistent messages for his players.
He said there was no doubt Wessels was destined to one day coach at the international level.
"Dave is ambitious," Grant said.
"He's constantly working on himself, personal development, he's very good at that, making sure that he's improving on his abilities as a coach, all the time.
"He's definitely up for it.
"The way he controls meetings and structures training sessions, he had a presence when he was getting his message across.
"You could see he was destined for some really good stuff."