The Western Force insist revenge won’t be on their mind despite having the perfect chance to inflict major heartbreak on arch rivals the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday.
The Rebels failed to secure a finals berth in their nine completed seasons of Super Rugby.
But they can crack through to the playoffs in the inaugural edition of Super Rugby AU if they beat the Force by four points or more in the final match of the regular season.
If Melbourne fail to do that, the NSW Waratahs will stay in third spot and secure the last finals berth.
The Rebels will start the hottest of favourites against the winless Force at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium.
But with Force players desperate to end their season on a high, the Rebels know it will be no walkover and are treating the game like a mini grand final.
Force captain Ian Prior was left devastated when the Perth-based franchise was axed from Super Rugby in 2017 in a move that ensured the Rebels’ survival.
But Prior said he and his teammates don’t hold any ill feelings towards the Rebels, who are coached by former Force mentor Dave Wessels and contain a number of former Force players.
“I think it’s a fan-based thing,” Prior said of the revenge factor.
“This year we probably came into the competition with a bit of a chip on our shoulder with the history of what happened there.
“Obviously we’re not happy with the results we’ve had, but we’re proud of some of the performances we’ve put in and the character we’ve showed having been on the road for 10 weeks.
“Being able to close out a win and finish the season on a high will be a rewarding finish.”
The Rebels would have made the finals last year if it wasn’t for their 59-8 loss to the Chiefs in Melbourne in the last round.
They are determined to make up for that flop this weekend.
The Force have lost former All Blacks centre Richard Kahui to a head knock, but welcome back their leading tryscorer Byron Ralston.
Brynard Stander replaces Kane Koteka at flanker.
The Rebels have been boosted by the return of skipper Dane Haylett-Petty.
– Justin Chadwick
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