Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Western Force to play Super Rugby, Asia-Pacific sides

Reuters, SYDNEY

The Western Force are later this year to play seven invitational matches against South Pacific and Asian national teams, as well as Super Rugby opponents, as a precursor to billionaire mining tycoon Andrew Forrest’s World Series Rugby (WSR).

The Force were last year dumped from Super Rugby after a very public and bitter wrangle with Rugby Australia, following a decision by governing body SANZAAR to cut three teams from the competition.

South African sides the Cheetahs and Kings were also dumped and realigned with an expanded Pro14 in Europe, while the Force were cut after taking Rugby Australia to court.

Forrest promised to introduce a new competition for the Force and then achieved Rugby Australia support to introduce it.

In October last year, he said it would probably be delayed until next year.

“The focus for 2018 is to reintroduce and reinforce professional rugby in Western Australia for the benefits of our grassroots community, our players and our fans,” Forrest said in a statement yesterday. “In 2019, the WSR will evolve into a high-caliber, international competition with the goal of making rugby the community-building sport of Asia.”

The Force, whose professional players either retired, left the country or moved to the other four Australian franchises, are to host all of the games in Perth, Australia.

They are to face Fiji and Tonga in May before playing Super Rugby sides the Melbourne Rebels and eight-time champions Canterbury Crusaders during the June international break.

They are also to play Samoa in July, and then Hong Kong and an unconfirmed opponent in August.

Forrest had said when he launched plans for WSR that he expected to include sides from the Asia-Pacific region and that it would include several rule innovations that would make it a “petri dish” for World Rugby.

Former Force captain Matt Hodgson, who retired at the end of last season and was a vocal critic of Rugby Australia’s decision, said the invitational matches this year would galvanize the support the team received as they rallied to save the side.

“This series offers a strong future for rugby in Western Australia,” said Hodgson, who is now the Force’s head of elite performance. “These matches are going to be fast and exciting and will offer a new experience for rugby fans in WA [Western Australia] and across the Asia-Pacific region.”

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