Force sign big four for Super Rugby return
THE Western Force are not about to simply make up the numbers in the revamped Super Rugby AU tournament, signing four stars including two former Wallabies to bolster their squad.
The Force is expected to soon unveil Kyle Godwin, Greg Holmes, Jono Lance and Ollie Atkins as new recruits, four weeks before their much-awaited return to Super Rugby against NSW Waratahs.
In a twist of fate, Godwin had been chased by the Waratahs before the COVID-19 lockdown put a freeze on contracting.
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The Force have now swooped to land the former Wallabies centre, who will line up against NSW on July 11 - the Force's first Super game since being axed from the tournament by Rugby Australia in 2017.
Lance is another star well-known to Tahs fans, having been part of the 2014 premiership-winning NSW squad.
Both Lance and former Wallabies prop Holmes also played in the victorious 2011 Super Rugby final for Queensland Reds against the Crusaders.
Holmes, a 27-Test veteran, will provide starch in the Force scrum, while Exeter lock Atkins - born in Hobart - had previous stints at the Perth franchise and NSW.
The addition of the quartet to the roster the Force have had for Global Rapid Rugby signals their intent to cause some boilovers as they seek permanent re-entry to Super Rugby.
Force coach Tim Sampson hinted at the new recruits on Thursday morning.
"There's been so much player movement worldwide, and we've been contacted by numerous players and player managers, I think there might be some good news over the next few days for us," Sampson said.
"We're still 30 days out so if guys do join us it's a pretty good prep time for them; four weeks lead in."
The Force will set up camp in the Hunter Valley, and play their early games away from home but hope coronavirus restrictions ease in Perth for the back half of the competition so they can host home games.
RA has yet to reach a decision on what the proposed model for Super Rugby will look like from 2021 and beyond.
"First and foremost we just want to play for Perth and WA in this tournament, at the back end of that later in the year we'll see what that brings and what 2021 brings, that will determine what we do," Sampson said.
Global Rapid Rugby chief executive, Mark Evans, declared the Force will make no excuses in their return season and expects big results.
"Whatever scenario the Force face, rest assured the coach and the players will be ready to take on any opposition anywhere," Evans said.
"The players have continued to work hard on the training paddock since the inaugural Global Rapid Rugby season was cancelled. Going head-to-head with Super Rugby quality teams will be a challenge. But in true Western Australian fashion, there will be no excuses."
RA confirmed the draw for the 12-week competition to start on July 3 when Queensland host the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium (7.05pm AEST), followed by the Brumbies vs Rebels in Canberra on July 4 (7.15pm AEST).
Round two will feature the Rebels vs the Reds on Friday, July 10, before the return of the Force against NSW in Sydney on Saturday, July 11.
All games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports and streamed on Kayo after RA struck a deal on Wednesday.
FRIENDLY DRAW FOR TAHS
Waratahs coach Rob Penney says his side is eager to make amends with a second chance to start the season.
The Waratahs had only managed one win from six matches but have been given a handy draw with two lots of four games, with a bye in between and one before finals.
They take on Queensland at Suncorp Stadium to open the competition on July 3.
"Obviously the first block of games in the other competition hadn't gone as well as we would have liked so there's been a reset," Penney said. "The boys are excited about having that opportunity again to set their mark in a positive way."
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said the domestic competition could be a possible blue-print for the future, with New Zealand also embarking on their own localised Super Rugby Aotearoa, which kicks off this weekend.
There are talks that a future competition could be extended to include a play- off series between the top few teams in both.
"Possibly, I think it's great," McKellar said.
"People want to see Australian derbies and there's plenty of them and they will be played at a high intensity.
"There's Wallabies jerseys up for grabs, with a new coach, so if you can't get up for these games you shouldn't be playing rugby."
Round 1: Friday, July 3 v Queensland Reds, Suncorp Stadium
Round 2: Saturday, July 11 v Western Force, Sydney*
Round 3: Saturday, July 18 v Brumbies, Sydney*
Round 4: Friday, July 24 v Rebels, AAMI Park
Round 5: BYE
Round 6: Saturday, August 8 v Reds, Sydney*
Round 7: Friday, August 14 v Western Force, HBF Park
Round 8: Saturday, August 22 v Rebels, Sydney*
Round 9: Saturday, August 29 v Rebels, AAMI Park
Round 10: BYE
*Stadium TBC for Waratahs home games