They're 0-4. But the Western Force believe they're still in the finals mix

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

Few teams have ever found gold just north of Tweed, but the Western Force are hoping that their move to the Gold Coast can end their winless run in Super Rugby AU.

Better still, they're still holding out hope that they can make a late run and push for a top three spot to see them into the finals despite recent results going against them.

After the Rebels and Waratahs both notched upset wins last weekend, the Force are nine points adrift of finals contention with four rounds left.

The equation, therefore, is simple: the Force must win their next four matches and that starts on Friday night against the Waratahs, who produced their finest display in two years to smash the Reds last Saturday in Sydney.

"A couple of results last weekend spread the table out in terms of who's ahead of us, but if we can land those four games we will certainly be in the mix for the finals," Force coach Tim Sampson said on Thursday.

Despite going down in each of their four matches to date, the Force have been firmly in the contest in three of those defeats.

Their most recent was at the end of last month, when a try to Rebels No.8 Isi Naisarani saw the Force go down in Super Time.

It was a defeat that left the players and coaching staff devastated ahead of last weekend's bye-round.

"It's useful definitely to have a week off, but we had four days off training which we needed," Sampson said.

"That last result took a fair bit out of us mentally.

"It was a good opportunity for the guys to get away from rugby.

"Three narrow losses and that can take it out of you a bit but we've turned up in a good head space this week."

Forced to go on the road and spend the entire competition away from their base in Perth, Sampson gave his squad a few days off to unwind in Coffs Harbour before venturing north up the coast to the Gold Coast.

During that time his squad hit the surf and golf course and drunk a few beers to get away from the game, while the coaching staff engaged in a local "tennis challenge" which has seen their shoulders fall to pieces.

For years the Gold Coast has been a city that many sporting teams have tried - and mostly failed - to crack.

But the Force, who will base themselves on the Gold Coast for the remainder of the competition, believe the move will help make them feel more settled after long game-day travel trips from the Hunter Valley south to Sydney for their games to date.

"I said to the guys pretty quickly when we arrived here it has more of that home-feel about it because we are a bit closer to the stadium and we're in a really nice place here," Sampson said.

"Getting on a bus for half-an-hour rather than a few hours will benefit us."

The Force have welcomed back captain Ian Prior for the match after missing the past two defeats because of a shoulder injury.

He's one of a handful of changes to the side with Test prop Pek Cowan making his first start of the year, Kane Koteka starts at openside flanker while Jake Strachan will make his debut at fullback with Jack McGregor dropping to the bench.

If the Force win, they'll have to do it against a team that at long last sprung to life last weekend as the Waratahs put 45 on the Reds. 

Prior said their victory, built on the back of a hot first half where they scored 38 points, wasn't a surprise and showed how close the margins were in the competition.

"They're (the Waratahs) obviously a quality team and they've been close in a few games, and they had that bye week to freshen up and I think they just came out swinging," he said.

"These Australian derbies are pretty brutal and pretty intense.

"The Reds had had a few games in a row and a few tough contests. It just shows that on any day you've got to be on your toes and make sure you're ready to go physically because the Tahs really aimed up there and surprised the Reds and played some really good footy."

The Waratahs take on the Force at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday August 14, kicking off at 7:05pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel, Foxtel Now and Kayo Sports. Buy tickets here. Buy a Kayo subscription here.