Force ready for Super Rugby AU debut

Western Force captain Ian Prior says it will be a special occasion when the franchise returns to Super Rugby ranks on Saturday.

IAN PRIOR.
IAN PRIOR. Picture: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Western Force's last Super Rugby game read like a movie script, and the franchise is hoping the sequel will be even grander.

On July 15, 2017, the Force defeated NSW Waratahs 40-11 in driving rain in front of 10,384 adoring fans in Perth.

Skipper Matt Hodgson scored a try in his 140th and final appearance for the Force, and he sent the crowd into raptures by converting a penalty after the final siren.

Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest strode onto the pitch after the game to declare to the world that he would stand side-by-side with the Force in their fight for survival.

Twenty-seven days later, the Force were brutally and controversially axed from Super ranks by Rugby Australia.

But the Force had a big ace up their sleeve - Forrest.

The well-known philanthropist stuck true to his word by creating a new competition for the Force.

The name changed several times, going from Asia-Pacific Rugby, to World Series Rugby, and finally settling on Global Rapid Rugby.

Almost every new announcement from Forrest was accompanied by a justified crack at Rugby Australia for its decision to cut the Force.

RA continued to bleed millions of dollars as the years wore on, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought the governing body to its knees.

In a twist of irony, RA came crawling back to Forrest earlier this year to invite the Force to compete in Super Rugby AU.

The Force's campaign begins on Saturday against the Waratahs at the SCG.

"I think it's going to feel a bit surreal to be out there at the SCG playing against the Waratahs again three years after last playing them," Force captain Ian Prior said.

"For the players and staff it's going to be a real rewarding experience.

"To relaunch the club so well and so quickly is pretty exciting."

Prior says he had mixed emotions during the Force's last game against the Waratahs in 2017.

"We didn't know what the decision was going to be. I guess where there's smoke there's fire, so there was a bit of writing on the wall," Prior said.

"It was a pretty special night in terms of Hodgo's last game. Personally it was my 50th cap for the Force.

"It was a memorable night, and I think if someone was writing a script for a movie, you couldn't write it any better for Hodgo.

"And then finding out via Twitter while having a coffee in a cafe that it was all done and dusted a few weeks later, that was pretty rough.

"But we're out the other side of that now."

Prior lavished praise on Forrest, thanking the billionaire and his wife Nicola for saving the franchise.