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Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels hopes the Western Force will continue to thrive in World Series Rugby, but there’s no place he’d rather be than in Super Rugby.
Wessels coached the Force last season, but jumped ship to the Rebels once the Perth-based franchise was controversially axed by Rugby Australia.
Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest launched WSR after the Force’s axing, and the breakaway competition has attracted huge crowds in the opening two games.
The Force will lock horns with the Rebels at nib Stadium on Saturday night in what is being billed as a grudge match of sorts.
Wessels fell in love with the Force during his time there and the franchise will always hold a special place in his heart.
The second-year coach hopes WSR, which will expand to a proper competition format next year, will grow even bigger.
But he is more than happy to be in Super Rugby ranks.
“Super Rugby certainly faces its challenges, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the premier domestic competition in the world,” Wessels said.
“If you’re not playing NZ teams in NZ, I find it very difficult to argue that competition is the best in the world.
“For me, one of the reasons why I wanted to stay in Super Rugby was to test yourself as a coach.
“You want to coach against the best players in the world. At the moment, that’s certainly still happening in Super Rugby.”
Wessels will coach Saturday’s match with mixed emotions and he wants to use the opportunity to thank the Force’s fans.
“In that last (ever Force) game we played the Waratahs and Matt Hodgson kicked that goal with the last kick of the game, and then we went on leave,” Wessels said.
“When the decision came through about the team (being axed), we were all away from each other.
“So we haven’t really had the opportunity to know that we were playing our last game at nib Stadium, to say our thank yous to everybody.
“So in a lot of ways, this provides that opportunity, which will be pretty special.”
Wessels has named six former Force players in his starting side and another two on the bench.
The Rebels currently sit second in the Australian conference after winning seven of their first 13 games.
Wessels has been keeping a close eye on WSR and has been blown away by how successful it has been to date.
“Hopefully World Series Rugby goes from strength to strength and we’re hoping our involvement in some way helps that,” he said.