The Western Force are daring to dream of snaring the Super Rugby AU crown after securing a landmark finals appearance in the most dramatic circumstances.
The Force needed to beat the ladder-leading Queensland Reds in Perth on Friday night in order to secure third spot.
Things were looking bleak at 21-7 down late in the first half, but a stunning hat trick from the Force’s English winger Jordan Olowofela lifted the Perth-based team to the 30-27 victory.
It continued a trend of heart-stopping wins for the Force, who beat the Rebels 16-15 in Melbourne a fortnight ago, before downing the NSW Waratahs 31-30 with an after-the-siren penalty last week.
The win over the Reds was the Force’s best and most courageous performance of the season, especially considering they played 30 minutes of the match with 14 men due to three separate yellow cards.
Confidence is now oozing at the Force, and they fancy their chances of beating the Brumbies in next Saturday’s semi-final in Canberra, before knocking off the Reds in Queensland in the grand final.
“All the way, no doubt,” Force coach Tim Sampson replied when asked what his team can achieve.
“You’ve got to ride the wave. We’ve proven we can win tight games, and in finals footy, you’re going to be in tight contests.
“We have the confidence going into the semi next week in Canberra of grinding out the game, whatever it takes.”
Star Force fullback Rob Kearney, who was a late withdrawal against the Reds after failing to recover fully from his adductor injury, is expected to return against the Brumbies.
The second-placed Brumbies easily beat the Force on both occasions this year, posting a 27-11 win in Perth, and a 42-14 win in Canberra.
But stand-in Force captain Kyle Godwin says his team are up for the challenge.
“The Brumbies are a quality outfit. They’ve notoriously been the best Australian Super Rugby side in history. So for us, we’re up for a big challenge,” Godwin said.
“We’re building some great momentum here.
“We’ve got great belief and trust in each other that we do have the quality and we do have the squad to go forward and do some damage in this competition.”
Sampson was full of pride after watching the Force end a 16-year finals drought in front of 6278 diehard fans just hours before Perth went into a three-day lockdown.