The old and the new clash this weekend in the first ever meeting between a Super rugby side and a team from World Series Rugby.
These teams are respectively the Melbourne Rebels and the Western Force, the two sides affected so deeply by the Super Rugby cull events of 2017. It was the Western Force who eventually suffered deepest, cast aside from the Australian conference, with a large number of their players heading East, the lion’s share of these taking up contracts with the Rebels. This included the entire coaching team headed up by David Wessels. On the back of this influx of players and coaches, the Rebels are enjoying their most successful season ever in Super Rugby, having already matched their previous record for wins in a season (7) with three rounds yet to play. The most recent result, a last start win over the Blues in Auckland, made them the first Australian side since the Waratahs in round 10 2015 to beat a New Zealand franchise in New Zealand. This form has them in with a real chance of topping the Australian conference and making the finals for the first time.
The Western Force too have some form heading into this match, with wins over both the Fiji and Tongan invitational teams in the first two World Series Rugby matches. While these invitational sides were missing a number their key international stars due to their club commitments, they did include enthusiastic youngsters eager to push their claims for a potential world cup squad place later this year. The skill and talent was certainly not lacking and the Force victories were hard fought and well deserved on both occasions. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of these victories was that there was a Force team playing at all, given the amazingly short time in which the squad and the tournament has been put together. This game provides a great opportunity for the young Force squad to test themselves against a proven Super Rugby strength side.
The circumstances of this match are certainly unique. This is perhaps highlighted best by the strong possibility (depending on which players are selected) that the Rebels will field more Western Force caps in their match-day squad than the Western Force themselves. I cannot recall a situation where this has ever happened before, in any sport. It will be a strange and somewhat bittersweet experience for many to watch as their former heroes run back onto their once home ground wearing a different strip. Strange too for the players. But once that first whistle sounds, all that strangeness will be replaced by the familiar, hard running and harder hits. Have no doubt that this match will be fiercely contested, despite there being nothing officially on the line. There are a lot of friendships between players on opposing teams and if there is anyone that you try hardest to beat, it is your mates!
There are a few intriguing potential match-ups for this game. The one that is most tantalising is the battle of the scrum halves with former Force favourite Michael Ruru coming up against current Force captain Ian Prior. Ruru has been finding some excellent form over the last few weeks and on paper should have the better of Prior, but the captain label is sitting very nicely with Prior and he is lifting to the added expectation. Both players control the play quite well from the back of the pack so it will be interesting to see who can have the greatest impact on the game come Saturday.The Rebels strength is likely to be in their forwards, and it will be a good test for the young Force pack to see how they deal with them. The backs are a little unknown as the Rebels will be missing quite a few of their regular starting backs due to Wallabies duties. It may turn out that the Force backline is actually the more settled of the two, though the Rebels will still have the more experienced heads overall.
This will be an incredibly important night for Australian rugby. This match will mark the first occasion that Super Rugby meets World Series Rugby. When the game is done, regardless of the final score, there will be a victory for Australian rugby. With this gesture the Force and Rebels have set the foundations for what hopefully will become an enduring rivalry. I am tipping the crowd to get behind the Force and drag them home in a very close one. Force by 3.
Western Force vs Melbourne Rebels
Saturday 9 June, 2018
nib Stadium, Perth
Kick off: 8.00pm (WST), 10.00pm (AEST)
This Saturday’s match will be LIVE on 7mate (not 7TWO) & Fox Sports.
1. Tom Moloney, 2. Nathan Charles, 3. Pone Fa’amausili, 4. Sam Jeffries, 5. Matt Philip, 6. Ross Haylett–Petty, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Angus Cottrell, 9. Harrison Goddard, 10. Tayler Adams, 11. Henry Hutchinson, 12. Billy Meakes, 13. Tom English (c), 14. Kiti Ratu, 15. Jack Debreczeni. Reserves: 16. Matt Gibbons, 17. Andrew Tuala, 18. Jermaine Ainsley, 19. Nick Champion de Crespigny, 20. Rohan O’Reagan, 21. Jack Johnson, 22. Michael Ruru, 23. Hunter Paisami, 24. Jack McGregor
1. Harry Lloyd, 2. Heath Tessmann, 3. Chris Heiberg, 4. Fergus Lee-Warner, 5. Johan Bardoul, 6. Tevin Ferris, 7. Chris Alcock, 8. Brynard Stander, 9. Ian Prior (C), 10. Andrew Deegan, 11. Brad Lacey, 12. AJ Alatimu, 13. Henry Taefu, 14. Rod Davies, 15. Peter Grant. Reserves: 16. Feleti Kaitu’u, 17. Markus Vanzati, 18. Tom Sheminant, 19. Leon Power, 20. Harrison Orr, 21. Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 22. George Pisi, 23. Clay Uyen