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The Western Force versus Melbourne Rebels: will it be a grudge match or a love-in?
The two sides were locked in a bitter fight for survival last year following Rugby Australia’s controversial decision to axe a franchise, with the Rebels eventually coming out on top.
Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest believes Rugby Australia never intended to axe the Rebels, and that the ‘selection process’ was merely a charade.
Forrest has since launched World Series Rugby, and the breakaway competition has enjoyed some solid early success.
A sellout crowd of 19,466 turned up for the tournament opener on May 4 when the Force defeated the Fiji Warriors 24-14.
And 16,323 rocked up on Sunday to watch the Force beat a Tongan representative side 47-17.
The Force’s next assignment is against the Rebels on June 9 – an intriguing match-up given the recent history between the two sides.
When the Force were axed from Super ranks, their coach Dave Wessels and a host of the franchise’s best players made the move to the Rebels.
Adam Coleman, Matt Philip, Billy Meakes, Richard Hardwick, Angus Cottrell, Ben Daley, Dane Haylett-Petty, Jermaine Ainsley, and Michael Ruru were among the Force players to make the switch.
Melbourne are still in the finals picture after starting their season with five wins from their first 11 rounds, and their game against the Force comes during the international break.
The match will be important to keep the Rebels’ non-Wallabies players match fit and sharp.
A portion of Force fans now despise the Rebels after viewing the fight for survival as unfair.
But others have a soft spot for the Rebels given the sheer amount of former Force players there, along with coach Wessels.
Force captain Ian Prior said he didn’t view the upcoming match against the Rebels as a grudge match.
“A lot of those players there are really close mates of mine, and I really support them in their careers and what they’re doing,” Prior said.
“We went through quite a unique year last year as a group, so there were a lot of special memories off the field and on the field.
“It’s going to be exciting to come up against them and test where we’re at as a team.”