This says it all: unavailable for selection are Andre Pretorius (hamstring, season), David Pocock (finger, 6 weeks), Richard Brown (shoulder, 6 weeks), Cameron Shepherd (thigh, 6 weeks), Nick Cummins (foot, 3-4 weeks), Mark Bartholomeusz (neck, 1-2 weeks), Ryan Cross (shoulder).
That’s taken so much experience and talent out of this side that the Force will be huge underdogs at the Cake Tin. It’ll be like the gunfight at the O.K. Corral with the Force the Clantons and the Hurricanes Wyatt Earp.
In fact, the side named today for Saturday’s match is one of the most inexperienced you’d ever see at this level, packed full of near schoolboys like Luke Jones and Stefano Hunt.
It’s not their fault that they’re in this situation and most unfortunate but Wellington could potentially be the Force’s Tombstone.
The coach hasn’t listened to critics of his recent flyhalf selection and left Sam Harris at 10 and Rabbit O’Connor at 15.
Neither Sam Harris, Josh Tatupu or Ryan Cross – the 10, 12 and 13 combination from last week, would hardly be described as ball players.
The resultant stodge, expected to some extent by the makeshift nature of this lineup, failed to fire up the backline. Their kicking game was less than adequate as well.
Harris was completely out of his depth (thrown into the deep end through no fault of his own) and it seems a tactical ‘no-brainer’ to me to slot O’Connor into 10.
He wouldn’t die wondering and has the maturity and capacity to create opportunities for the backline.
Against the Brumbies they didn’t even look like scoring a meat pie, but with O’Connor directing play they’d certainly have more potential to do that.
Dane Haylett-Petty and Haig Sare have played fullback previously, so why wouldn’t you use one of them at 15?
A couple of positives for the Force is that they were in the game right up until the last 10 minutes or so last week and they appear to perform best away from home.
Mitch Inman will start at outside centre after Ryan Cross was declared unfit following a shoulder injury sustained last week.
Ben McCalman joins a new look back row at 6, Matt Hodgson wears the no. 7 jersey for the first time since 2008 with Sam Wykes shifting to Number 8.
A change in the front row will see Tim Fairbrother start at tighthead prop against the province he played for 58 times, with Matt Dunning shifting to the loosehead side and Nic Henderson reverting to the bench.
The un-capped Ryan Tyrrell replaces Ben Whittaker on the bench as the alternate hooker.
Lock Tom Hockings wins a starting role in the second row alongside captain Nathan Sharpe, with Richard Stanford and Luke Jones providing cover for the back and second row.
Tyrrell, Jones, Hunt and Rapana would make their Super 14 debuts if used as substitutes.
Coach John Mitchell said “We’ll give it a good shake. The disappointing thing from the Brumbies match was that we didn’t get through a lot of attack and didn’t throw a lot at them. That’s where we’d like to get a lot better this week”.
“We were hugely impressed by the commitment and length of time that we stayed in the match to possibly have a chance to win considering the circumstances.
“We’d really like to have a real dig and throw a lot more at the Hurricanes in attack this weekend.”
The Hurricanes see the return of Rodney So’oialo to the side (bench) and have plenty of key players in Andrew Hore, Neemia Tialata, Scott Waldron, Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Cory Jane.
The Hurricanes are without Hosea Gear due to a knee injury and Jason Eaton, who has been stood down for disciplinary reasons.
The weather forecast in this god forsaken place is going to be surprisingly mild, which will probably facilitate some expansive play from the Hurricanes impressive backline.
Unfortunately, I’m expecting the inexperienced Force to be delivered to Boot Hill by the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday, and can’t really foresee any other outcome.
Western Force v Hurricanes (kick-off: 2.35pm AWST)
Force: 1. Matt Dunning 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. Sam Harris 11. Haig Sare 12. Josh Tatupu 13. Mitch Inman 14. Dane Haylett-Petty 15. James O’Connor
Reserves: 16. Ryan Tyrrell 17. Nic Henderson 18. Richard Stanford 19. Luke Jones 20. Chris O’Young 21. Stefano Hunt 22. Joelin Rapana
Hurricanes: 1. John Schwalger 2. Andrew Hore 3. Neemia Tialata 4. Bryn Evans 5. James Broadhurst 6. Michael Paterson 7. Scott Waldrom 8. Victor Vito 9. Piri Weepu 10. Willie Ripia 11. David Smith 12. Ma’a Nonu 13. Conrad Smith 14. Tamati Ellison 15. Cory Jane (capt)
Reserves: 16 Dane Coles 17 Jacob Ellison 18 Rodney So’oialo 19 Karl Lowe 20 Tyson Keats 21 Aaron Cruden 22 Andre Taylow