It’s not only the Western Force who have been unlucky in love recently but the Chiefs are without a swag of quality players for this weekend’s clash in Swan Laager.
In good news for the Force Mark Bartholomeusz, Ryan Cross and Nick Cummins return to the starting XV and recent four-game emergency signing Scott Staniforth is back on the wing.
And in news to light up the Bunsen burner of old Einstein himself, James Rabbit O’Connor has finally been selected at flyhalf – no, not ‘flyback’ this time but actually at No. 10.
How long he stays there remains to be seen as former Waikato and one test All Black David Hill has flown into WA to boost the flagging Force firepower.
Interestingly, Hill’s prime position is flyhalf but he’s also played NPC rugby at fullback for Marlborough and Southland, and Super 12/14 for the Waikato Chiefs at inside centre.
He’s been on two All Black tours as a dirt tracker and also turned out for the Junior All Blacks and NZ Maori. He is a very capable player and more than adequate replacement for ‘the General’.
Mr Versatile also played in the Guinness Premiership for Bristol and has flown in directly from Toshiba Brave Lupus in Japan, where he was player of the year in 2009. He returns whence he came at the end of the Super 14.
Personally, I’d like to see Rabbit stay at No. 10 for the rest of the season but at least John Mitchell now has any number of options with 10, 12 and 15.
Bart is selected at fullback where he’s also had plenty of experience at the top level.
In a mild surprise Mitch Inman retains his place in the run-on side but is now at 12 partnering Ryan Cross.
I say a mild surprise but he did have a fairly enterprising game last week in the centres although I’d suggest he may not be there next week when Hill comes on board.
In the forwards Tucky Dunning gets the push to the bench after his out-of-sorts timing malfunction the other day and Nic Henderson returns.
The Chiefs are without big guns Mils Muliaina (resting), stand-in Captain Sione Lauaki (suspended) and Sitiveni Sivivatu (shoulder).
First choice lock Craig Clarke (groin) and prop James McGougan (back) are also injured.
All Black winger Lelia Masaga returns for his first Super 14 hitout and Brendon Leonard is the starting halfback again. Surprisingly, Aled de Malmanche is on the bench with Hika Elliot now the No. 2.
The Chiefs backline looks particularly dangerous with five having previously turned out for the All Blacks.
However, there’s a brittle look about the Chiefs forwards especially the inexperienced second row.
The front row is a hefty unit with Taumalolo a steamroller and I think their loosies will be very dangerous while Bam Pocock and Dick Brown aren’t around.
The Force are beginning to regroup after a calamitous start to the season and now have an injection of experience to stabilise the equilibrium.
If the Force can pressure the Chiefs’ youngsters at lineout time and dominate first phase possession they could be in with a chance.
The Chiefs poor defensive effort last week against the Lions would have given them some hope and there may also be a fatigue factor at play after the South African leg of their tour.
Mitch would love a win against his old team but they’ll have to work hard to achieve it.
I’m picking the Chiefs to win by a small margin but surely it’s time for an upset. I’d like to send these Tainuis home to their King with their humaeko between their legs.
Force: 1. Nic Henderson 2. Pek Cowan 3. Tim Fairbrother 4. Tom Hockings 5. Nathan Sharpe (c) 6. Ben McCalman 7. Matt Hodgson 8. Sam Wykes 9. Brett Sheehan 10. James O’Connor 11. Nick Cummins 12. Mitch Inman 13. Ryan Cross 14. Scott Staniforth 15. Mark Bartholomeusz
Reserves: 16. Ryan Tyrrell 17. Matt Dunning 18. Richard Stanford 19. Luke Jones 20. Chris O’Young, 21.am Harris 22. Dane Haylett-Petty
Chiefs: 1.Sona Taumalolo 2. Hika Elliot 3. Nathan White 4. Romana Graham 5. Culum Retallick 6. Liam Messam (captain, 7. Tanerau Latimer 8. Colin Bourke 9. Brendon Leonard 10. Stephen Donald 11. Dwayne Sweeney 12. Callum Bruce 13. Richard Kahui 14. Lelia Masaga 15. Mike Delany
Reserves: 16. Aled de Malmanche 17. Ben Afeaki 18. Jarrad Hoeata 19. Luke Braid 20. Junior Poluleuligaga 21. Jackson Willison 22. Tim Nanai-Williams