MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Western Force have no problems with being tagged the “underdogs” of Super Rugby AU but the Perth-based side fully expect to be in the hunt at the “pointy end” of the domestic competition, coach Tim Sampson said on Thursday.
Three years after being axed from Super Rugby, Force return to the spotlight on Saturday when they play the New South Wales Waratahs at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Bookmakers give the Force little chance of beating Australia’s four Super Rugby teams to the title, but Sampson said he was comfortable with that.
“Our expectations are we’re going to perform in this competition and be there at the pointy end,” he told reporters in Perth.
“We’ve set ourselves up nicely. I think we’ve been gunning for this for a while, playing against the other Australian Super Rugby clubs, and I think we’ll manage it quite well.
“We might be tagged as the underdogs — we don’t mind that. It’s fine.”
The Force are backed by mining billionaire Andrew Forrest and have been playing in the “Global Rapid Rugby” tournament, which features modified rules and Asia-Pacific teams.
They have recruited a slew of experienced players in recent weeks, including former Wallabies forwards Greg Holmes and Pek Cowan, and one-test centre Kyle Godwin.
Prop Holmes and Godwin were named on the bench against the Waratahs, having only recently served Australia’s mandatory quarantine period for returning residents to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Prop Cowan, who left Force after their 2017 exit from Super Rugby, is unavailable while undergoing quarantine.
The Waratahs starting 15 is unchanged from that which lost 32-26 to the Queensland Reds in the tournament opener last week and coach Rob Penney said his side needed to be careful against the Force.
“It’s these sort of fixtures where one team gets an emotional boost, another team for one reason or another might be a bit low and it turns into a massive banana skin,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford