They say that good things come to those who wait, and the Western Force will be sweating on that to be the case, as they gear up for their first Super Rugby Pacific game on home turf this season.
When the season kicked off last month, the Force were hopeful – but certainly not confident – they would be able to return home to Western Australia at some point and play games in front of friends, family, and the devoted supporters that form the ‘Sea of Blue’ in Perth.
However it was never clear when that would occur.
Among many tweaks to the Super Rugby Pacific draw already this season were the swapping of two Force home games scheduled for the first month of the competition.
Instead, they played the Brumbies in Canberra in Round 1 and will face the Waratahs in Sydney in Round 4 next week.
But their Round 3 clash this weekend against the Queensland Reds remained pencilled in as a home game.
Initially, they were granted approval from the WA Government to play the game at home, with the Force and Reds allowed to fly-in and fly-out for the game and remain in bubble conditions for the one-night stay.
But now the Force are home. Properly.
And they are getting ready to play a home game at the Perth Oval for the first time since June last year, after starting a third straight season on the road.
“It’s going to be a real buzz around town and certainly around the team so yeah, we can’t wait to get out there,” Force scrumhalf Ian Prior told ABC Sport this week.
“Obviously playing quality opposition as well, which makes it even better. So yeah, can’t wait.”
If we go back to Saturday night, and particularly the way the Force finished off their bonus point win over the Melbourne Rebels in Melbourne, the reactions and the celebrations when winger Byron Ralston crossed to secure the bonus point win and in the dressing rooms post-match spoke of a team exploding with relief.
A Western Force tradition over the last year has been not just their club song after a win, but the joy that emanates through their social videos as they belt out a selected contemporary hit as well.
On Saturday night, they thumped the Rebels 28-3, scoring three tries to none. The song of choice? Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball.
It felt appropriate given the job they had just done on the Rebels, but that performance also came with the knowledge that yet another impromptu east coast tour was just about done. Sing the song, pack up the next morning, head to the airport. They’d be home that afternoon.
“Getting on that plane with a big smile on your face is always a really happy feeling, and to know that we’re coming back with a bit of momentum to play in front of the Sea of Blue, you know, that’s even bigger for us,” centre Kyle Godwin says of the trip home on Sunday.
“We feel like we’re in a process of trying to build something nicely here and looking forward to implementing that against the Reds again on the weekend.”
Prior explains that the squad had Premier Mark McGowan’s press conference playing on phones while travelling on a bus late last month when it was announced the WA border would open to the rest of Australian from March 3.
“There was a big cheer around the bus as soon as he locked in the date,” he said.
But despite landing in Perth on Sunday, the Force squad wasn’t quite ‘home’. They still had to get through a couple of days of hotel quarantine, while kicking off preparations for Queensland this week in another bubble.
Once out of quarantine, the players and staff will enjoy the luxury of waking up on game day and getting out of their own beds. And there’s no disguising that playing at home again – especially when they weren’t sure when or if they’d get to do it this season – is going to mean a lot.
Godwin can only agree.
“A lot of the other boys have young families here, and also I’m liking the fact that I’ve got my family and a bit of extended family here at the moment. To play in front of them, that’s a dream come true,” he said.
“They’re your biggest supporters, so yeah, to play in front of them family and friends, it’s always a special moment.”
Come Saturday morning, and with a win over Queensland hopefully behind them, the Force get to become normal citizens of Perth again. Their favourite cafes and restaurants are all back on the cards, as are things like school runs, and backyard chores. And maybe some neglected hobbies, too.
“If I’m feeling up for it, I might be going for a cheeky surf,” Godwin laughs.
“Hopefully, there’s a bit of swell, but certainly some time with my partner. I think I might be in the bad books, if I spend five or six weeks away and I don’t plan anything with her on Saturday.”
With a couple of young kids in tow, Prior says he’s looking forward to an old family favourite.
“Going for a walk down to the local cafe with the kids and my wife Lizzy. I’ve really missed that sort of morning routine, especially on your days off as a family when you realise how busy you are,” he said.
“My daughter really likes to make a smoothie with me in the morning and it takes about 20 minutes, but we get there. All those special family times will be really good.”
Super Rugby Pacific — Round 3 (all times AEDT)
- Moana Pasifika v Crusaders, Dunedin 5:05pm
- Fijian Drua v Melbourne Rebels, Sunshine Coast 7:45pm
- Western Force v Queensland Reds, Perth 10:00pm