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Monday, January 23, 2006

 

Super 14: Double trouble awaits Force

Astonishing that one Australian city might barrack the team of another Australian city when they are actually facing a Kiwi team on the field!

The Perth Sunday Times details the double trouble the Force can expect when meeting the Crusaders in Melbourne next week.

By NICK TAYLOR

THE Western Force will get no favours on or off the field in next Saturday's trial against reigning "Super" champions Canterbury Crusaders in Melbourne.

It can expect a hostile reception from a one-eyed Victorian crowd in the Olympic Park stands and a another from its New Zealand on-field opposition.

A huge expatriate Kiwi contingent will be among supporters still seething over Perth winning the Super 14 franchise.

It will be an acid test for the Force and Crusaders coach Robbie Deans stirred the passion when he said: "The Force is probably the perfect opposition for us. It's the side that Melburnians would like to see us beat."

Force coach John Mitchell played down the rivalry: "We're an Australian side representing Australia."

Deans, who was Mitchell's All Blacks assistant before they were dumped after the 2003 World Cup, added: "It'll be a good meeting. It'll be a genuine hitout for us.

"Our All Blacks will be with us, so they'll be getting game time."

Mitchell will take a 26-man squad to Melbourne and, subject to injury, the same squad will travel to Auckland for the club's final trial, against the Blues.

He will introduce some of the Force's Wallabies into the game at Olympic Park and the rest in Auckland.

"By that stage, everyone will have had game time," Mitchell said.

"We'll still be going through growing pains, but we'll be better for it."

The Crusaders are the bookies' favourites to pick up their sixth "Super" title this season, despite the loss of seven All Blacks to retirement and transfers.

They include the key pairing of Justin Marshall and Andrew Mehrtens and forwards Norm Maxwell and Dave Hewitt.

But Deans said: "It doesn't concern us. We have the same opportunity as everyone else and the `favourite' tag has no great interest to us.

"We've lost seven all All Blacks but the guys we've developed are well versed in what we are about. We'll be competitive for sure."

The Crusaders franchise hopes to make the Force match in Melbourne a permanent fixture.

Deans said: "We have to prepare in Australia in pre-season and we've made a conscious effort to establish a home away from home."

Five days after the Melbourne game, the Force heads to Auckland to play the Blues, coached by David Nucifora.

He was head coach of the ACT Brumbies from 2002-04 and guided them to the Super 12 title in his last season before being sacked.

Nucifora, one of the first coaches to signal an interest in the Force, before Mitchell's appointment, said: "It's the last trial game for both teams and both will probably be getting close to their final side and will want a good hitout."

He said the Force had recruited well: "It wouldn't have been an easy task, recruiting for the now and making sure you've got a strong backbone through the team, but also looking to the future."
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