The Western Force are still well on track to secure a maiden Super Rugby finals berth despite their disappointing last-up loss to the Crusaders.
With a maiden Super Rugby finals berth in reach, the Western Force are in foreign territory – or are they?
The Force sit just one point adrift of sixth spot with winnable games against the Blues (Perth), Queensland (Perth) and Brumbies (Canberra) to round out their season.
Three wins will guarantee the Force a finals berth, while even two could be enough to sneak into the playoffs.
Most of the Force’s history has been littered with mediocrity.
In the past four years, the Force finished 13th, 14th, 12th and 13th.
But in 2009, the Force were left contemplating the “what ifs?” after finishing just five competition points adrift of a finals berth in what was then a top-four system.
In their past three games of that season, the Force lost to the Bulls 32-29 in Pretoria, suffered a heartbreaking 25-24 defeat to the Stormers in Cape Town, before beating the Highlanders 33-28 in Perth.
Had the Force snuck over the line against the Bulls and Stormers, they would have pipped the Crusaders for fourth spot.
The Force boasted a host of stars in 2009, with Wallabies Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Nathan Sharpe, David Pocock, Richard Brown, James O’Connor and Ryan Cross all strutting their stuff for the Perth-based franchise.
Fast-forward to now, and the Force’s fairytale season has been achieved through hard work, discipline and dedication to the cause rather than outright star power.
Last week’s 30-7 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch put a dampener on the Force’s charge.
But with scrumhalf Alby Mathewson, winger Luke Morahan, centre Solomoni Rasolea, utility back Kyle Godwin, flanker Chris Alcock and lock Hugh McMeniman all set to return from injury after the three-week Test window, Force coach Michael Foley knows there’s a lot to look forward to.
“There’s 15 points to take out of the last three games. It definitely means the destiny is in our own hands,” Foley said.
“That’s something we’ll touch on when we come back together and the players are well aware of that.
“We’ve got a lot of belief out of what’s been achieved already this year. That will give us momentum into the last three games.
“The mood should be very good. The team’s achieved a lot this year – certainly a lot more than most people expected.
“But we still have higher expectations. We have goals that we’ve set ourselves and we’re going to chase them very hard.”
Force fans can only hope the heartbreak of 2009 won’t be repeated.