While the Force and the Reds may kid themselves they are still a chance to make this year’s finals, realistically, they are not. In fact, both teams are at their lowest point of the season after suffering losses in crucial games at their last outing.
The Force have been strengthened with the inclusion of Nick ‘Frampton’ Cummins and Richard Brown while the Reds have also made a couple of changes, Higgers comes into the run on side and Ezra Taylor replaces Tasi Luafutu. The Reds replacements are both at the back row, interestingly the area were the Reds were well beaten last week.
The badly exposed Reds’ wingers retain their places however this probably has more to do with a lack of viable alternatives, rather than a glowing vote of confidence by Coach Phil Mooney.
The game plan for the Force this week will be a fairly simple one based on a similar formula to that of the Chiefs the week before. Kick to space and move the inexperienced back three around, commit plenty of numbers to the breakdown and expose the lack of mobility of the Reds backrow, then go wide (where they have a clear advantage) from quick turnover ball and catch out the poorly aligned Reds defence.
The Force must ensure that they have an effective chase after their kicks as all of the Reds back division are excellent broken field runners.
For the Reds, the plan must be to try and keep the ball in close and work it through their tight five. They have an advantage here over the Force and showed in the early stages of the game last week against the Chiefs just how effective they can be playing a forward orientated game. When the Reds went away from this plan it was part of their downfall.
The Reds must improve their tactical kicking, last week it was simply awful and a similar fate to last week awaits them should this area of the game not improve.
It is hard to see this game being one to remember. Both teams have struggled to come to terms with their own games this season let alone being able to concentrate on how to dominate an opposition. Both teams will be down on confidence and with the season all but over, probably a little lacking in motivation as well.
The Force look to have this one covered comfortably, lots of experience in key positions and a decent sprinkling of match winners throughout the team. The Reds, well, they’ll huff and they’ll puff, but I doubt it will be enough to blow the Force down.
Cote says – Force by 9
Force: Drew Mitchell, Scott Staniforth, Ryan Cross, James O’Connor, Nick Cummins, Matt Giteau, Josh Valentine; Richard Brown, David Pocock, Matt Hodgson, Nathan Sharpe (captain), Tom Hockings, Ben Castle, Tai McIsaac, Pek Cowan. Reserves: Luke Holmes, AJ Whalley, Sam Wykes, Tamaiti Horua, Chris O’Young, Junior Pelesasa, Haig Sare.
Reds: Mark McLinden, Blair Connor, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes, Rod Davies, Quade Cooper, Ben Lucas; Leroy Houston, Daniel Braid, Hugh McMeniman, James Horwill (captain), Van Humphries, Laurie Weeks, Sean Hardman, Ben Daley. Reserves: Saia Faingaa, Jack Kennedy, Scott Higginbotham, Ezra Taylor, Brendan McKibbin, Anthony Faingaa, Charlie Fetoai.