SYDNEY, June 11 (Reuters) - Western Force will have to wait until the second week of Super Rugby AU to make their return to provincial competition after being given a bye for the opening round when the fixtures were released on Thursday.
Perth-based Force were dropped from Super Rugby as a cost-cutting measure in 2017 but, kept alive by mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, have been recalled to join the 12-week, five-team domestic competition that begins on July 3.
Rugby Australia put together the new Super Rugby AU format after the international Super Rugby competition, which also features teams from New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Japan, was halted by the coronavirus outbreak in March.
In the opening match of the new competition, the New South Wales Waratahs will travel to Brisbane to take on the Queensland Reds in the latest edition of Australian rugby’s oldest inter-state rivalry.
The Force will play the Waratahs in their opener the following week on July 11 in Sydney, where they will be based until the Western Australian government ends state border controls put in place to contain COVID-19.
“We are looking forward to welcoming back the Western Force and seeing them take on their Australian rivals once again,” said interim Rugby Australia Chief Executive Rob Clarke.
“We know there is a lot of excitement in the west and we cannot wait to see them in action.”
Rugby Australia have included three home matches for the Force in Perth, but all are conditional upon a relaxation in travel restrictions to the western state, which has had relatively few cases of the virus and nine deaths.
The five teams, which also include the ACT Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels, will play in a round robin format over the first 10 weeks with a semi-final and final to decide the title in mid-September.
New Zealand launches its domestic competition, Super Rugby Aotearoa, this weekend. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Christopher Cushing)