MELBOURNE For two teams battling for their futures in Super Rugby, the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force have shown little on the playing field to justify their retention in the cut-throat competition.
The Australian strugglers' cause was weakened further on Saturday as the Rebels suffered a 44-3 trouncing away to South Africa's lowly Kings after the Force lost 24-15 to the Johannesburg-based Lions in front of a paltry home crowd.
Either the Rebels or Perth-based Force will be cut next season as the competition contracts from 18 teams to 15, but both teams have threatened to fight for their survival, in court if necessary.
The off-field defiance has not translated into on-field success, however, and both remain anchored to the bottom of a weak Australian conference, with three wins between them after 10 weeks of the season.
Rebels fans have endured a number of harrowing defeats this campaign, but the loss to the Kings, one of South Africa's weakest sides, may be the toughest to swallow.
The Kings are almost certain to be cut from the competition next year as South Africa axes two teams, but the Port Elizabeth-based side are not heading quietly to the gallows.
They ran in six unanswered tries as the Rebels struggled to cope with the loss of captain Nic Stirzaker, a late withdrawal due to an ankle injury, and an early injury to back-up scrumhalf Mick Snowden.
As unsettling as the injuries may have been, the Rebels still dominated possession but their sputtering attack failed to build any pressure and their defence was swept aside by repeated turnovers.
"It wasn't much of a spectacle, really, was it?" Rebels coach Tony McGahan said.
"We were well beaten, no shying away from that fact."
Stirzaker is set to be sidelined for up to three weeks and the Rebels face another huge test at home next week against the high-flying Lions, the best performing of South Africa's six teams.
"They're obviously in good form, we've got a bit of a pick-up job here again to get ourselves back up for that," added McGahan.
The Force have shown more backbone than the Rebels this season but have only managed one more win and their loss to the Lions was another frustrating outcome for the dogged Perth side.
More concerning for David Wessels' team was that only 7,300 turned up at Perth Oval, a poor number for a franchise that has claimed to have the widespread community support necessary for its continued participation in Super Rugby.
"I felt like we deserved to win it," Wessels said of the match.
"I'm just so proud of the guys for their effort but at the same time so disappointed that we didn't get anything out of that game."
The pressure on the Force is unlikely to ease on a gruelling road trip to South Africa to take on the Sharks (6-2) in Durban next week followed by the Jaguares (4-5) in Argentina.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)