The Western Force will be aiming to get their third win in a row at home for the first time in three seasons but they will be up against it with a list of injuries which looks like a butchers’ bill.
It must have been difficult for the players to concentrate of the job at training when they found out, for sure, that they were the team of choice to be dumped by the ARU after SAZAAR confirmed earlier that Australia had to lose one team next year.
Nor was there any mitigation knowing that the Force had issued a writ against the ARU to stay their eviction from Super Rugby. If there was going to be closure the players would have preferred something quicker so they could make plans.
Force players – carrying a big load of doubt this week
They have been there, or thereabouts, in all their games excepting their walloping by the Crusaders, not an uncommon experience for rugby visitors to Christchurch.
In their most recent match before their second bye last weekend, they had a whacky, high-scoring win against the admirable young Kings.
It’s a game the Force could have lost easily but they showed true grit coming back to the field after being 13 points down with 16 minutes left.
They have lost only one match to date when the Stormers beat them in Cape Town in a thrilling match of four different quarters.
Then last week they had an abominable start in Bloemfontein when the Cheetahs led 24-0 in 22 minutes before The Tribe did their thing and scored 41 unanswered points to get a bonus-point win.
Force should kick to the seagulls – not to this fellow
The game plans
Force – they can’t afford to kick the ball away to the Chiefs as they did to the Kings because the Chiefs will just score try after try. Returning kicks is almost a set piece to them.
The Force kickers will have to find grass, and if there are any seagulls on the ground they should kick to them because there will be no humans around. Especially, they should not kick to the person wearing the no. 15 jersey.
The Chiefs are brilliant but if they want to keep pace with the Crusaders and Hurricanes in the NZ Conference they can’t have dozy starts like they did last week. And playing ice cream rugby against non-Kiwi sides is fine but they have to play with more structure, and prepare for playing New Zealand teams in May.
Adam Coleman – not ready to play yet
The Force have six players with long-term injuries and will miss five more for this match. Wallaby lock Adam Coleman was expected to be recovered from his calf injury but it is not right, and another international, Ben McCalman (shoulder), has succumbed again.
Big improver, lock Matt Philip (foot), scrum half Michael Ruru (ankle) and Chance Peni (groin) will also be missing.
Their lock stocks are so low that they acquired ex-Scotland U20 player Lewis Carmichael on a short-term loan from Edinburgh a few weeks ago, and he starts, paired with Ross Haylett-Petty—not a specialist second-rower himself.
Lewis Carmichael – will not forget playing against the All Black second rowers
At least Wallaby Luke Morahan is healthy again and can play on the wing. Flanker Brynard Stander is also returning and is named in the reserves.
Oddly, flyhalf Jonno Lance is a replacement player so that Luke Burton has a crack running on; and Randwick scrum half Mitch Short, who was recruited this week from Randwick, becomes the fourth-string scrummie. He makes his debut if he comes off the bench.
The Chiefs have circulated a few players as teams do on tour but nothing signifies much, though winger Shaun Stevenson has been impressive and deserves another start.
They will look at this match and their next two games against the Sunwolves and Reds, as an opportunity to rest or rotate players against lesser teams, then go into a bye before they have a red-hot crack against the Crusaders the week after.
Shaun Stevenson – deserved a start
Key points of interest
The main question is whether or not this bits-and-pieces Force team can fit together and be competitive – and how long for. In particular, how will the second-row pairing of RHP and the Scot, Lewis Carmichael, contend with All Black giraffes Bird and Retallick?
One thing for sure: it will an unforgettable experience for 21 year-old Carmichael; good luck to him.
New Force flyhalf, Luke Burton, will also have a steep learning curve against some fellow called Aaron Cruden, who is supposed to be handy—as is scrummie Kerr-Barlow, who is cursed to be contending with Perenara and AJ Smith for national honours, and is playing well this year.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow – handy scrumhalf
This halves pairing should have it all over the local lads, as should the rest of the backline, but I don’t think the Force guys will see it that way.
The back row confrontation will be a genuine contest with the Tribe having an obvious edge and being better balanced as part of that. But with Hodgson well and truly back and Stander available as fourth man, the Force will give plenty.
The Force front row won’t go away either. Daley and Faulkner may not be shining lights in Australian rugby but they do well enough in the scrums with what they’ve got, and the presence of hooker Polota-Nau between them.
The Force don’t have a lot of tangible advantages in their favour, but I don’t think it will be as easy for the Chiefs as some people expect although they have all the ticks on the stat sheets, except perhaps for goal kicking.
The Cheetahs ran up a quick impressive scoreline against the Chiefs before the Kiwis woke up, and the Stormers beat them by showing team attributes that you won’t see in any statistics.
So you never know – and the third week on any tour can be telling.
Chiefs by 20
Stormers – team attributes make a difference
1. Ben Daley
2. Tatafu Polota-Nau
3. Tetera Faulkner
4. Lewis Carmichael
5. Ross Haylett-Petty
6. Isi Naisarani
7. Matt Hodgson (c)
8. Richard Hardwick
9. Ian Prior
10. Luke Burton
11. Luke Morahan
12. Bill Meakes
13. Marcel Brache
14. Curtis Rona
15. Dane Haylett-Petty
16. Heath Tessman
17. Francois Van Wyk
18. Pek Cowan
19. Onehunga Havili
20. Brynard Stander
21. Mitch Short
22. Jono Lance
23. Alex Newsome
1. Siegfied Fisi’ihoi
2. Brayden Mitchell
3. Atu Moli
4. Dominic Bird
5. Brodie Retallick
6. Liam Messam
7. Sam Cane
8. Michael Leitch
9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow
10. Aaron Cruden
11. James Lowe
12. Anton Lienert-Brown
13. Sam McNichol
14. Shaun Stevenson
15. Damian McKenzie
16. Hika Elliot
17. Aidan Ross
18. Sosefo Kautai
19. Taleni Seu
20. Lachlan Boshier
21. Finlay Christie
22. Stephen Donald
23. Toni Pulu
Date: Friday, 22 April 2017
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 5:45 pm local, 7:45 pm AEST
Referee: Nic Berry (Aus)
Will Houston (Aus), Graham Cooper (Aus)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Aus)
Statistics courtesy of Opta Sports.