Western Force coach Tim Sampson is hopeful superstar fullback Rob Kearney will be able to return for Friday night’s season-defining clash with the Queensland Reds in Perth.
Kearney hasn’t played since injuring his groin in the 26-19 Super Rugby AU loss to the Reds on March 20.
The Ireland great just fell short of being passed fit for Saturday night’s dramatic 31-30 win over the NSW Waratahs, and he’s firming to return against the Reds.
The Melbourne Rebels and Force are locked in a fierce battle to secure third spot and a place in the finals.
The final round will see the Force play the Reds on the Friday night, and the Rebels play NSW in Sydney the following day.
Bonus points and points differential could end up deciding third spot, depending on results.
The return of Kearney would be a huge boost to the Force, who are riding high after pulling off dramatic victories over the Rebels and Waratahs in consecutive weeks.
“He’s pretty close,” Sampson said of Kearney’s return.
“He was due back a couple of weeks ago, and just tweaked something around his groin area.
“He was very close for this game (against the Waratahs). Hopefully he gets through the next few days and he’s available for selection.”
Former All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush could miss after rolling his ankle against the Waratahs.
The Force trailed by nine points with 10 minutes to go, but a try to Jordan Olowofela in the 72nd minute and a clutch sideline conversion from Argentinian flyhalf Domingo Miotti reduced the margin to two points.
NSW lost a line-out with just six seconds remaining in the match, allowing the Force one more shot at victory.
After 23 hard-fought phases, the Force were awarded a penalty for offside, and Miotti calmly slotted the kick from 21m to secure victory.
The result was another heartbreak for the Waratahs, who are winless after seven games and had lost 24-22 to the Brumbies in their previous match.
Waratahs captain Jake Gordon wants his team to finish the season strongly against the Rebels.
“The last two games we’ve been within two points,” Gordon said.
“We’ve still got a point to prove. We’re improving as a team, but we are not where we want to be.”