Western Force coach Tim Sampson is optimistic scrumhalf Issak Fines-Leleiwasa can overcome a foot injury in time to play again this Super Rugby Pacific season.
Fines-Leleiwasa suffered the injury in last week’s 53-15 loss to the Crusaders and has been ruled out of Friday night’s season-defining clash with the Highlanders in Dunedin.
The Force have already lost flanker Kane Koteka to a season-ending foot injury, but Sampson is hopeful Fines-Leleiwasa hasn’t suffered the same fate.
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“He was in a moon boot when we flew out yesterday,” Sampson said.
“I haven’t got the final report. The early signs are that it’s not as bad as Kane’s. Hopefully it’s just a couple of weeks.
“The injury is unfortunate because he was certainly lighting the game up for us.”
Even if Fines-Leleiwasa is only ruled out for two weeks, he would still miss matches against the Highlanders, Chiefs and Moana Pasifika.
Veteran Ian Prior has been thrust back into the starting line-up against the Highlanders to fill the void left by Fines-Leleiwasa, while the Force are also bolstered by the return of star winger Manasa Mataele (concussion protocols).
Captain Feleti Kaitu’u is still battling tightness in his legs and will come off the bench again.
Five losses on the trot have seen the Force plummet to 10th with a 2-8 record.
But with eight of the 12 teams qualifying for finals, the Force are still right in the thick of the play-off dog fight.
The Force are three points adrift of the eighth-placed Highlanders, making Friday night’s clash a must-win affair for the Perth-based franchise.
Sampson’s men produced the goods when it mattered most to qualify for the Super Rugby AU finals last year, and the outgoing coach is backing them to repeat the effort.
“This group has proven that when their backs are against the wall and there’s desperation required we can certainly adapt to that and play some of our best footy,” he said.
“The guys are well aware that the Highlanders are a team that we are battling out for that final eighth position. It’s a very important game for us.”
The Highlanders have named winger Sam Gilbert at flyhalf and Thomas Umaga-Jensen at 12 in a powerful combination.