The Western Force host the Melbourne Rebels in Round Five of Super Rugby AU.
First, how awesome is it to have the Western Force back in Super Rugby (AU)?
The Force will once again play host at Leichardt Oval. This week the Force are playing the Melbourne Rebels. The Rebels definitely have a Force flavour to them from the coaching box to the field to the casualty ward.
While the Rebels have the upper hand in the head to head nine wins to four, in 11 games between the two teams the margin has been seven points or less.
How do the two teams shape up this week?
The Western Force are still searching for their first win of Super Rugby Au. I did read some commentary from naysayers this week asking why the Force were back in Super Rugby Au? My guess is these naysayers didn’t watch any of the games and may have just looked at the final scores. The Force has been playing entertaining and competitive rugby.
In their first two matches versus the Waratahs and the Reds, the Force led 14 – nil with losing margins of 9 and 7 points. In the Waratahs game, it wasn’t until a 74th-minute penalty goal that the Waratahs wrapped up the game. In the Reds game, the Force was attacking following a lineout after the siren but a knock-on brought an end to the contest.
The Western Force have been competitive in SR AU 2020
Even in the Brumbies match the scoreline of 24 – nil was not indicative of the game and how competitive the Force played. The majority of the damage in this game was done in the first five minutes of both halves and the two tries in the first five minutes of the first half were long-range efforts by the Brumbies.
The Rebels have a one in each column of the standings (win, loss and draw). A slow start in the opening match against the Brumbies eventually cost the Rebels an eight-point defeat.
At Brookvale Oval, the Rebels led the Reds by 10 points with five minutes to go, but the Reds were able to score a try at the death to take the match to Super Time and the two sides were not able to be separated after an extra ten minutes.
I noted the Force have been playing entertaining rugby, well you couldn’t necessarily say the same thing about the Rebels. Although, after last week bashing the Waratahs defence into submission, I am not sure Rebels fans would have been complaining. The Rebels had their highest score and biggest winning margin against the Waratahs and it was the first time the Rebels have had back to back wins against the Waratahs. The Rebels ended up winning 29 to 10.
Players to Watch
Former All Black Thrush brings plenty of experience to the Force. He has played over 100 Super Rugby games and played more than 50 games for Gloucester. Thrush stood in as Force captain last week v the Brumbies in the absence of injured captain Ian Prior. Thrush has won 10 lineouts for the Force during Super Rugby Au, the equal most by a Force player along with Fergus Lee-Warner.
Lance played with the Force prior to the Force’s axing from Super Rugby and has returned to join the Force for Super Rugby Au. Lance also brings a wealth of experience having spent time at both the Reds and Waratahs and also playing for Worcester. Look for Lance to bring both creativity and composure to the Force. His combination with the returning Ian Prior will be important to the outcome of the match.
The experienced Operator, Jono Lance.
He’s also probably one of the easiest guys to pick on the field, modelling a Bruce Willis “the Fifth Element” look.
McGregor previously spent time at the Rebels but never played Super Rugby for the Rebels. McGregor did play for the Rebels against the Force in World Series Rugby (now Global Rapid Rugby). Look for McGregor to use his speed to exploit the Rebels’ defence. McGregor has carried the ball for 154 metres during Super Rugby Au.
Koroibete won the 2019 John Eales Medal. Last week, Koroibete became the 15th player to play 50 Super Rugby games for the Melbourne Rebels. Koroibete celebrated late in the game by picking up the ball from a ruck, a dummy, a fend and 25 metres later he scored a try. With that try Koroibete moved to equal third on the Rebels all time try scorers list with 19 (equal with Jack Maddocks).
It’s also no coincidence the return of his form coincides with the return of his famous beard.
Speaking of 50 games, it is apt that Isi Naisarani returns from injury to play his 50th Super Rugby game against his old team the Western Force. This is Naisarani’s first game in Super Rugby Au and the Rebels have definitely missed his dynamic running. In the pre-COVID 19 2020 version of Super Rugby, Naisarani had the fourth most carries in the competition with 73 and was equal fourth for defenders beaten with 25.
Hodge is the all-time leading try scorer and point scorer for the Rebels. Hodge is versatile and has played in every backline position for the Rebels except for scrum half. This week the Rebels’ Mr Fixit is playing at fullback in place of injured captain Dane Haylett-Petty, which should give him ample opportunity to use his booming kick.
The Force will fancy their chances to open their account and the Rebels will gain confidence from their victory last week. If history is a guide, the match will go down to the wire and I think the Rebels will just shade the Force – Rebels by 5 points
Western Force v Melbourne Rebels
Friday 10 July at 7:05pm EST / 5:05pm WST
At Leichardt Oval
1. Chris Heiberg, 2. Feleti Kaitu’u, 3. Kieran Longbottom, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Fergus Lee-Warner 6. Henry Stowers, 7. Tevin Ferris, 8. Brynard Stander, 9. Ian Prior (c), 10. Jono Lance, 11. Marcel Brache, 12. Richard Kahui, 13. Kyle Godwin, 14. Byron Ralston, 15. Jack McGregor
Reserves: 16. Andrew Ready, 17. Pek Cowan, 18. Tom Sheminant, 19. Johan Bardoul, 20. Ollie Callan, 21. Nick Frisby, 22. Henry Taefu, 23. Brad Lacey
1. Cameron Orr, 2. Jordan Uelese, 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Esei Haangana, 5. Trevor Hosea, 6. Michael Wells, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Isi Naisarani, 9. Ryan Louwrens, 10. Matt To’omua (c), 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Billy Meakes, 13. Andrew Kellaway, 14. Tom Pincus, 15. Reece Hodge
Reserves: 16. Efi Ma’afu, 17. Cabous Eloff, 18. Pone Fa’amausili, 19. Matt Philip, 20. Robert Leota, 21. Brad Wilkin, 22. Frank Lomani, 23. Andrew Deegan