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Injury-hit Force eye long-term ambitions

NZN 5/05/2017 Justin Chadwick

Western Force coach Dave Wessels has an 18-month plan to turn his team into Super Rugby title contenders - but it remains to be seen whether he gets the chance to see it through.

The Force have defied a heavy injury toll this season to put in a series of competitive displays.

Although they've only won two games, five of their six losses have been by nine points or less.

Injuries to key players have hurt the Force's chances of snaring more wins, with Ben McCalman (thumb/shoulder), Dane Haylett-Petty (hamstring), Adam Coleman (calf), Chance Peni (groin) and Ryan Louwrens (knee) spending long periods on the sidelines.

Although the injury crisis has been tough to deal with, it's helped the Force unearth a host of promising youngsters.

Super Rugby newcomers such as winger Alex Newsome, Curtis Rona, Peni, Bill Meakes, Jermaine Ainsley, and Isireli Naisarani have shown plenty of promise this season.

Wessels is excited about what they may be able to produce over the next year or two.

But he may not get the chance to see that happen as the Force wait to see whether they survive the axe.

Either the Force or Rebels will be axed from the Super Rugby competition ahead of next year.

While that drama unfolds off the field, Wessels is intent to keep his fledgling side focused on rugby.

The Force face a major test on Saturday when they front up against the Sharks in Durban.

So bad have the Australian franchises performed this year, the Force (2-6) are still in the mix to snare a finals berth by topping the Australian conference.

"We've got a game in hand on some of the other teams. So a win anywhere in the next two games would put us right back in the picture," Wessels said.

"But to be honest, our focus is not really on the playoffs at the moment.

"I think we recognise as a team we're not experienced enough to win Super Rugby at the moment.

"Our focus is on improving, and exposing players to learning opportunities so that in 18 months' time, we can be competitive (for the title).

"Although it would be very nice to make the playoffs this year, and to win, we have some long-term ambitions."

The Force have been bolstered by the return of Wallabies lock Adam Coleman, who has recovered from the calf tear he suffered in round two.

The Sharks have never lost to the Force in Durban before, and they enter the game full of confidence following last week's win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

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