Western Force have won just two Super Rugby Pacific matches this season yet, astonishingly, they can still qualify for the finals.
It’s a very long shot and they can’t do it on their own.
But, if they win their next two matches against Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart Stadium on Tuesday and the Hurricanes at HBF Park on Saturday – with a bonus point in at least one of the games – they can make the eight.
They then need the Rebels to send the Highlanders home from Melbourne empty-handed on Sunday.
The Force were given a second chance by the Waratahs who broke a 14-year hoodoo in their 32-20 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Nobody was cheering louder than the Force from their New Zealand hotel room following the 54-21 flogging by the Chiefs, their third heavy loss to Kiwi sides after the 53-15 and 61-10 batterings by the Crusaders and Highlanders.
Coach Tim Sampson told his players to wave the Waratahs flag.
“I said to the fellas go and cheer the Waratahs home, put a bit of sky blue on for the first time. .. and last time,” Sampson said.
“The result gives us something to play for. It’s put another spring in the step. We’re craving this win.”
Six bonus points picked up in close losses and the win over the Rebels have given the Force a sniff of making the finals.
At least one more bonus point is crucial to their hopes but Sampson said they would not throw caution to the wind against Moana.
“We stick to our processes, not have chasing the bonus point in the front of our minds,” he said.
“We play the first 40 minutes to set up the game and in the second-half, if the bonus point is looking an option, chase it, absolutely.”
The Force are without a number of injured key players and go into the game without a specialist open side back-rower.
Sampson has been forced to take a gamble and use third-choice hooker Jack Winchester as the reserve flanker, a position he has only played in junior rugby .
“With injuries to our genuine No.7s, Jack is a very good defender and a good on-baller,” Sampson said.
Outside back Byron Ralston moves to the centres to partner Richard Kahui, Reesjan Pasitoa is back at fly-half pushing Jake McIntyre to full-back and winger Manasa Mataele returns from injury.
Hooker Feleti Kaitu’u is on the bench with Andrew Ready starting and second-rower Jeremy Thrush steps in with Izack Rodda swapping to the reserves.
Moana have made 13 changes to their starting team following the 34-22 loss to the Reds but there are plenty of internationals names on the teamsheet including former Force centre Henry Taefu.
Western Force starting side: 1 Tom Robertson, 2 Andrew Ready, 3 Santiago Medrano, 4 Ryan McCauley, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 6 Fergus Lee-Warner, 7 Tim Anstee, 8 Jackson Pugh, 9 Ian Prior (c), 10 Reesjan Pasitoa, 11 Manasa Mataele, 12 Richard Kahui, 13 Byron Ralston, 14 Toni Pulu, 15 Jake McIntyre. Reserves: 16 Feleti Kaitu’u, 17 Angus Wagner, 18 Bo Abra, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Jack Winchester, 21 Michael McDonald, 22 Kyle Godwin, 23 Brad Lacey.
Moana Pasifika starting side: 1 Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 2 Luteru Tolai, 3 Chris Apoua, 4 Veikoso Poloniati, 5 Mahonri Ngakuru, 6 Sione Tu’ipulotu, 7 Alamanda Motuga, Jack Lam (c), 9 Ereatara Enari, 10 Lincoln McClutchie, 11 Neria Foma’i, 12 Henry Taefu, 13 Levi Aumua, 14 Tomasi Alosio, 15. Lolagi Visinia. Reserves: 16 Samiuela Moli, 17 Taukiha’amea Koloamatangi, 18 Joe ‘Apikotoa, 19 Alex McRobbie, 20 Penitoa Finau, 21 Manu Paea, 22 Fine Inisi, 23 Anzelo Tuitavuki.