They deserved more three years ago, and they certainly deserved more in their Super Rugby AU clash with Melbourne on Saturday in Newcastle, but yet again the Western Force came up empty-handed.
The Force fell in the final minute of their last round match against the Rebels, who scored a converted try to win 34-30, booking a place in the finals and keeping the Perth team winless for the season.
It was the second Super Rugby AU clash between the teams that went down to the wire, with their round five match going Melbourne’s way in extra time.
Saturday’s game came three years to the day when the Force were told they were to be axed from the Super Rugby competition, with the Rebels winning that battle also.
Heart-broken coach Tim Sampson said the closeness of the result showed again that the Force deserved a place at the table of elite Australian rugby.
They’ve been in almost every match, despite their limited preparation and time away from Perth since early July.
“It brought us together even tighter and I won’t walk away from this tournament and scratch my head and think that things didn’t go right in certain areas,” Sampson said.
“Each week we’ve prepared exceptionally well.
“It’s been challenging when you train at different fields and you don’t have loved ones around and it’s brought us even tighter.”
The Rebels’ win came when the TMO ruled Efi Ma’afu had lost the ball backwards over the line, with prop Cabous Eloff picking it up and planting it over the line.
“It showed what kind of spirit we have in our team to defend our line in the last 15 minutes and almost jag it,” Sampson said.
“That decision could have gone one way or the other – it was a pretty tight call and unfortunately it went to the Rebels.”
Melbourne coach Dave Wessels, who led the Force until they were cut, praised his former side.
“That game could have gone either way and all competition they’ve played with a lot of energy and passion and we should acknowledge the sacrifices they’ve made being away to even make sure this competition went ahead,” Wessels said.
Rugby Australia have guaranteed that the Force will be a part of any Super Rugby competition going forward, with a commitment to five teams.
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