Western Force will open their new-look Super Rugby Pacific season with the blockbuster grudge clash at home against Melbourne Rebels.
The Force insist they no longer carry a grudge against the Rebels who survived Rugby Australia’s axe when they controversially chopped the Force from Super Rugby four years ago.
But plenty of fans are still dirty, have long memories and will give the Melbourne side a warm welcome to HBF Park on Saturday February 19 for the tasty starter.
The competition now has 12 teams, with Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua – who the Force play in round two – joining the five Australian and five New Zealand franchises.
The draw, unveiled on Monday, features 14 games during the regular season that includes 11 round-robin games and three special ‘rivalry games’ – the Rebels, Brumbies and Waratahs.
In round two all 12 teams will play in a ‘Super Round’ at Melbourne’s AAMI Park with three consecutive days of double-headers.
The Force have a three-game road trip to New Zealand in March where they play the Chiefs, Highlanders and Moana Pasifika, and host trans-Tasman champions Blues and Super Rugby heavyweight Crusaders in consecutive home matches in April.
They have their bye mid-season in round eight and four home games in the last six in their run home.
Coach Tim Sampson was pleased with the draw.
“It’s a pretty good home and away spread,” Sampson said.
“Having the first game at home is nice.
“It’s such a long build-up and to get your first game at home is pretty appetising. To play one of the new teams (Drua) early on will be fantastic.
“Now the draw is out the guys have been give an extra buzz and a have focus on that round one game.
“Leading into Christmas we have two dozen training days and once we’re into the New Year it will happen very quickly.”
Sampson does not yet have his complete squad training with a number of players like wingers Tony Pulu and Manasa Mataele and prop Harry Lloyd either in quarantine or yet to arrive.
The two new New Zealand assistant coaches, Mark Ozich (attack) from Hawke’s Bay and Wellington’s Paul Tito (defence) flew into Perth on Monday to start their quarantine.
Saturday, February 19: Rebels, 7pm, HBF Park.
Saturday, February 26: Fijian Drua, 4.45pm, AAMI Park.
Friday, March 4: Reds, 7pm, HBF Park
Friday, March 11: Chiefs, 2pm, FMG Stadium
Friday, March 18: Highlanders, 2pm, Forsyth Barr Stadium
Friday, March 25: Moana Pasifika, 2pm, Mt. Smart Stadium
Friday, April 1: Brumbies, 6pm, HBF Park
Saturday, April 16: Waratahs, 5.45pm, TBA
Friday, April 22: Blues, 8pm, HBF Park
Friday, April 29: Crusaders, 8pm, HBF Park
Sunday, May 8: Brumbies, 12pm, GIO Stadium
Saturday, May 14: Hurricanes, 8pm, HBF Park
Saturday, May 21: Waratahs, 8pm, HBF Park
Sunday, May 29: Rebels, 12pm, AAMI Park