MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Western Force coach Tim Sampson said on Thursday his team needs to beat the Melbourne Rebels for the fans in Western Australia who still feel aggrieved by the Perth side's expulsion from Super Rugby three years ago.
The Force play the Rebels on Friday for the first time since the 2017 Super Rugby season, which was overshadowed by Rugby Australia's plan to cull one of the teams to save costs.
Despite joining the southern hemisphere competition in 2006, five years ahead of the Rebels, the Force were cut at the end of the 2017 campaign, triggering protests from angry fans.
The Rebels survived and padded out their roster with most of the Force's best players but still failed to make the playoffs in 2018-19.
Sampson said the history would carry weight when the teams clashed at Leichhardt Oval.
"What the fans and members went through, they have every right to feel this way and, I think internally, for our fans, we've got to get a win," Sampson told reporters.
"We've just got to concentrate on what we can control and if we do come up with a win, we'll enjoy the spoils afterwards.
"I'm sure it does mean a lot to a lot of people back home and we've spoken about that already this week."
The Force are winless from three games of the domestic 'Super Rugby AU' competition following a 24-0 thrashing by the leading ACT Brumbies last week after being competitive against the Queensland Reds and New South Wales Waratahs.
The Rebels have a win, a loss and a draw from their three matches.
Former World Cup-winning All Black Richard Kahui will make his first start for the Force at inside centre, with Kyle Godwin also promoted to be his midfield partner.
Former Wallabies prop Pek Cowan, who pledged to never play for another Australian team after the Force were axed, was named on the bench for his first appearance in three years.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Toby Davis)