Trans-Tasman gap not as bad as it seems: Wessels

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Force coach Dave Wessels says Australia’s 0-17 record against New Zealand teams isn’t as bad as it sounds, as his side prepares to face the red-hot Highlanders on Sunday.

New Zealand sides have won every trans-Tasman Super Rugby battle this season and are on a 23-game run dating back to May 2016, and the Highlanders are on a seven-game winning streak, after a slow start to the year.

Despite the lopsided record, Wessels said the gap between the countries wasn’t as dire as it seemed.

“In some ways it's disappointing but in a lot of those games, things were tighter than they seem for a long period through those games,” he said.

“Sometimes the gulf is made to be massively wide.

“Sure, there is definitely a gulf or a difference - New Zealand teams are out in front at the moment - but I think that in rugby a lot can change in a very short space of time.”

While the chance to potentially break the drought is tempting, Wessels said the desire for his team to win at home was far greater than an international rivalry, and said the chance to reward their fans would be a major boost after two weeks on the road.

“For us to be able to play one of the New Zealand teams is another opportunity to measure ourselves,” he said.

“I think they're obviously a very good side and they've got a lot of confidence at the moment.

“For us, the Sea of Blue's our 16th man, so we might be talking about the travel factor or different things but I think the fact that the crowd gets behind us, that will lift us.”

The Force are coming off one of their best wins in recent memory, a 16-6 victory over the Jaguares, and Wessels said it was a major step on their ‘journey’.

“Right at the start of the season, we spoke about some of our frustrations, of not creating pressure and finishing games off and I just thought that was a good learning for us in Argentina,” he said.

“Around that 60-minute mark, the game was still pretty much in the balance and then we just did some things  that I thought really started to create some pressure on the Jaguares and that ultimately was the difference in the game.

“It always feels good to win but I think more than that we feel like we're on a journey and I feel like that was a pretty big step for us.

“Being able to win away from home in the manner we did was pretty good.”

While their bench added spark in Argentina, they’ll be vying with one of the best reserve lineups on Saturday, with All Blacks Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga on the pine for the Highlanders.

“There's no doubt that at the back end of the game they're going to up the tempo a fair bit and try to go for the jugular there so we've got to be prepared for it,” he said.

Wessels also revealed a handful of his players have played through injuries this year - most recently, flyhalf Jono Lance played in Buenos Aires with a fractured hand, a problem that has ruled him out of this weekend’s clash.

Lance started the season playing through a rib injury, while lock Matt Philip returns from a broken foot, which he played through early on in the year, before ultimately succumbing.

The Force host the Highlanders on Saturday night, kicking off at 5:45pm local and 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO.