The Western Force return home to take on the two-time defending champions, the Chiefs.
A big crowd is already building for Saturday’s clash, following the Western Australians’ consecutive bonus-point wins in their last two outings and the side is looking to continue that momentum against the unbeaten Chiefs. What has emerged from the past fortnight is that the Force can actually play a bit – producing outstanding efforts for a team that has barely secured two four-try bonus points in the last three years.
The opposition is obviously a step up on last week and they’ll suffer greatly with the loss of the competition’s form No.8, Ben McCalman. Just a solitary point separated them the last time the two sides met, with the Chiefs prevailing 22-21 in Pukekohe in Round 13 last year. This week the Force welcomes Wallaby forward Hugh McMeniman back from injury, as he returns at blindside flank. Angus Cottrell shifts to the back of the scrum in place of Wallaby No.8 Ben McCalman, who will miss the match after being suspended for a dangerous tackle against the Highlanders.
The Chiefs have made a number of changes to the side that defeated the Stormers last weekend, with lock Mike Fitzgerald and flank Sam Cane named in the forward pack, while wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma, utility Tim Nanai-Williams and club legend Mils Muliaina helping to form a new-look backline. Cane the sideline was the best place to assess progress. With his leg up, Cane was buoyed by his side’s performance against the Stormers last week. The Chiefs enjoyed a decent share of possession and, thus, displayed their lethal attacking abilities.
“We had two gutsy wins and, maybe, in other years we would have lost those,” Cane told the Waikato Times. “It’s pleasing to get those type of wins,” he said, adding: “We definitely enjoy scoring more tries, like we did against the Stormers.” Despite being unbeaten, assistant coach Wayne Smith made it clear the defending champions would not become complacent.
“This competition is all about keeping your feet on the ground. Past success doesn’t guarantee anything,” he said. “You’ve got to keep working on the character, attitude and spirit and keep improving your skill and decision-making execution. There’s a few more months of that yet.”
2013: Chiefs won 22-21, Pukekohe
2012: Chiefs won 20-12, Perth
2010: Chiefs won 37-19, Perth
2009: Chiefs won 31-13, Hamilton
2008: Force won 22-21, Perth
2007: Chiefs won 64-36, Hamilton
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Marcel Brache.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Mils Muliaina, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Tanerau Latimer, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Will Houston (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)