Western Force captain Ian Prior will make his first start for the club in four months when he leads the team out against Melbourne Rising in an enticing National Rugby Championship clash this Sunday at UWA Sports Park in Perth.
A mainstay in the Force side for the past six seasons, Prior missed 12 weeks with a pectoral injury sustained in the early part of the Global Rapid Rugby season. He worked tirelessly to return to full fitness and has played off the bench since making his comeback in early August.
Western Force Head Coach Tim Sampson paid credit to Prior’s team-first mentality as he waited patiently for his opportunity to re-join the run on side.
“Being fully fit and ready to go was Ian’s first challenge, then he’s had to wait as Issak (Fines) continued to do a super job in stepping up and filling the big shoes that Ian left,” Sampson said.
“We’re very fortunate to have two fit and accomplished players challenging for that starting nine jersey. Ian and Issak are different styles of halfbacks, both have wonderful qualities, and like you’ve seen in the opening two weeks both will have an opportunity to have an impact on this game at different times.
“Ian has handled himself in an outstanding manner, he lives our team ethos of ‘club, team, me’ in that order. He is an experienced player; his leadership is impeccable and that has an impact on the players around him. His game sense is excellent, he can read and manage a match really well and we’ll be looking for that from kick-off against Melbourne,” Sampson added.
The Western Force has made five changes to the match-day 23 that overpowered defending NRC Champions Fijian Drua last weekend in Suva. Chris Alcock, Leon Feke, Kiti Ratu, Andrew Ready, and Jeremy Thrush have all come in. Sampson admitting it had been a tough week at the selection table with plenty of players in-form and putting their hand up to play.
“We’ve had selection headaches this week, particularly in the forwards, with players available and training the house down to get their shot,” Sampson said.
“We made some tough decisions but the guys who haven’t got a game this week have copped it on the chin and understand the reasons why. Our squad is in a really good headspace at the moment and whether you’re in the match-day 23 or not everyone is working hard and know opportunities will come as we make our way through the NRC competition.”
While the Force is eyeing a third successive victory, Melbourne is yet to secure a win. Sampson knows however that form has a funny way of being flipped on its head if the focus is off by only a little and said his side must neutralise a number of threats posed by the Rising.
“Melbourne has an impressive pack, a lot of Super Rugby experience in there, so the set-piece is certainly one of their strengths. In general play they’re good as well, with ball in hand they’re aggressive, powerful and mobile so we need to match that for sure,” Sampson said.
“They have some handy additions in the backs too and I think the best is yet to come from Melbourne. The longer this tournament goes on the more of a handful they’re going to be and being the third game in we expect they will be a much tougher side this week.
“This will be a really hard-fought match that’ll have a bit of everything, it’s one that shouldn’t be missed. We’re really happy to be back at home and looking forward to seeing as many of our members and supporters as possible in the Sea of Blue on Sunday,” Sampson said.
Western Force team to take on the Melbourne Rising
In: Chris ALCOCK, Leon FEKE, Kiti RATU, Andrew READY, Jeremy THRUSH
Out: Ben GRANT, Feleti KAITU’U, Jack MCGREGOR, Grason MAKARA, Carlo TIZZANO
Round 3 – National Rugby Championship
Western Force v Melbourne Rising
Sunday, 15 September 2019 at UWA Sports Park, Perth
Kick-off: 3.00 pm AWST, Streamed live on Rugby.com.au