Front row stalwart Pek Cowan will captain the new-look Emirates Western Force in their 2013 Super Rugby season opener against the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Cowan stands in for regular skipper Matt Hodgson, who has been ruled out of the match with a minor hamstring injury.
The 26-year-old becomes the seventh player to lead the Western Australian province in Super Rugby behind Nathan Sharpe, David Pocock, Brett Sheehan, Brendan Cannon, Scott Staniforth and Matt Giteau.
Cowan leads a squad that features seven players in line to make their debut for the Emirates Western Force.
Flanker Chris Alcock will make his debut for the Perth-based side after joining the squad from the Waratahs. He joins a familiar Force forward pack that also includes the return of Sam Wykes (knee) and Ben McCalman (shoulder/broken arm) from lengthy injury layoffs that disrupted their 2012 Super Rugby seasons.
The Emirates Western Force will run out a new-look backline, featuring a revamped halves pairing of Alby Mathewson and former Waikato flyhalf Sam Christie. The Kiwi combination will link with a fresh centre pairing of Kyle Godwin and Winston Stanley, while Alfie Mafi, Patrick Dellit and Will Tupou make up the back three.
“Friday is an exciting opportunity for our new side,” Emirates Western Force Head Coach Michael Foley said.
“As the pre-season has progressed, competition for positions has become more intense, which is a tribute to the players’ efforts to continually lift the standards within the team.
“A key focus for us this year is to improve on the side’s performances from last season and the higher we push our standards, the closer we come to achieving our number one goal of ‘earning respect’.”
The match provides reserve hooker Heath Tessmann’s first opportunity to line up against his former province while replacement backs Mick Snowden, Sias Ebersohn and Junior Rasolea are also in line to make their provincial debut for the Emirates Western Force.
The side will be without Wallaby winger Nick Cummins, who will make his return via the Force ‘A’ curtain-raiser against Rebel Rising. Cummins sustained a knock to his knee during pre-season training and did not participate in either of the side’s pre-season trial matches. Wallaby flanker/lock Hugh McMeniman has also been rested after suffering a minor pectoral strain in the side’s 46-0 final trial win over Tonga Select XV last weekend.
2013 Super Rugby – Week One
Emirates Western Force v Melbourne Rebels
AAMI Park, Melbourne
Friday, 15 February 2013
Kick-off: 7.40pm (local)/4.40pm (AWST)
1. Pek Cowan (c)
2. Nathan Charles
3. Tetera Faulkner
4. Sam Wykes
5. Toby Lynn
6. Angus Cottrell
7. Chris Alcock*
8. Ben McCalman
9. Alby Mathewson*
10. Sam Christie**
11. Alfie Mafi
12. Kyle Godwin
13. Winston Stanley
14. Patrick Dellit
15. Will Tupou
16. Heath Tessmann*
17. Kieran Longbottom
18. Phoenix Battye
19. Richard Brown
20. Mick Snowden**
21. Sias Ebersohn*
22. Junior Rasolea**
* Emirates Western Force debut
** Emirates Western Force & Super Rugby debut