Force firm on crucial piece of the puzzle
Alby Mathewson. Pic: Getty Images

Western Force will challenge Australian Rugby Union rules in a bid to extend the contract of marquee player Alby Mathewson.

The former All Blacks scrum-half was signed under the ARU's two-year overseas Test player deal last season.

The Force want to keep the No.9 and will use the precedent set by the game's governing body when they allowed Wales No.8 Gareth Delve an extension to his marquee contract at the Melbourne Rebels.

Coach Michael Foley said Mathewson was a crucial player.

"Alby is vital to our team," Foley said.

"Discussions are happening and there are a couple of levels to those. It's too simplistic for somebody in an office to turn around and say there are other nines available.

"It's very, very important for the Western Force that we take our time and walk the ARU through it and hopefully come to some understanding so that we can re-sign Alby."

The Force have more than two dozen players coming off contract this season, among them overseas development player Sias Ebersohn. The South African fly-half has shown the form that made him a Force target several years before he finally signed to the club. If he stays at the Force for another season Ebersohn becomes eligible to play for Australia.

His form has sparked interest in South Africa, with reports Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer has been monitoring him.

The Force have had talks with James O'Connor's management in the past couple of weeks but are no closer to a deal.

They would not take him if his sole aim was a chance to play 7s for Australia at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics or a 2015 World Cup berth. They would need a two-year guarantee from O'Connor and would not tolerate excessive salary demands.

Senior players are likely to be consulted before any deal.

Foley said retention of current players was a priority.

He expects lock Sam Wykes to be fit for Saturday's clash with the Bulls at nib Stadium. Full-back Jayden Hayward could also be back. Bulls second-rower Flip van der Merwe will go before a judiciary later this week after being cited for allegedly punching or striking Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan on Saturday.

The West Australian

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