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Force unsure when Ripia will return

By Justin Chadwick 03/03/2011 08:31:37 PM Comments (0)

Western Force coach Richard Graham is unsure when Willie Ripia will return to Super Rugby ranks as the former Hurricanes flyhalf struggles to overcome a foot injury.

Ripia injured a tendon in his foot during a pre-season game last month and missed the round one loss to the Reds.

The 25-year-old is still confined to a moonboot, leaving Wallabies winger James O'Connor to once again fill in at five-eighth for Saturday night's clash with the unbeaten Sharks in Perth.

Graham said the Force wouldn't take any risks with Ripia, mindful that the extended season will require more hands on deck.

"The reason he's in the moonboot (is) it's just easier to manage than putting him in a cast," Graham said on Thursday.

"So with the moonboot we can take him out of the moonboot each week and mobilise and manipulate his ankle so he should, when he comes out of it full-time, come back to training quicker.

"In terms of a return date - can't give you anything.

"He's got a little tendon injury on his foot. Nothing major, but it's just one of those niggly things that we're mindful of given the season's another 20 weeks long.

"If we bring him out of the boot too early then we might lose him for an extended period of time."

With Ripia not ready to return, the Force named an unchanged run-on side for the match against the Sharks, with the only tweak to the squad being former Wallaby Matt Dunning replacing injured prop Kieran Longbottom (shoulder) on the bench.

With the Sharks beating the Cheetahs and Blues in the opening two rounds, Graham acknowledged Saturday would be a tough test.

"Their performances over the past two games have been very good, they're a big physical side and certainly if you look statistically at their games, the forward pack plays a huge part in their attack and where they'll look to establish dominance," Graham said.

Meanwhile, Force hooker Ben Whittaker has re-signed with the club until the end of 2013 just days after winger Nick Cummins and lock Sam Wykes finalised two-year extensions.

Whittaker, 21, played three games for the Force in 2009 before being upgraded to the main list, where he added another nine caps last season.

"We believe Ben is part of the best young group of hookers in Australia and it was important for us to retain him and ensure competition between him, Nathan Charles and Siliva Siliva continues," Graham said.

"That depth will make them better and consequently make us better."

Force squad: Pek Cowan, Ben Whittaker, Tim Fairbrother, Ben McCalman, Nathan Sharpe, Matt Hodgson, David Pocock, Richard Brown, Brett Sheehan, James O'Connor, David Smith, Gene Fairbanks, Mitch Inman, Nick Cummins, Cameron Shepherd Res: Nathan Charles, Matt Dunning, Sam Wykes, Tevita Metuisela, James Stannard, Alfie Mafi, Rory Sidey.

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