The Western Force return home from Cape Town this week, to host the injury depleted Lions at the final pitstop of their Australasian tour: NIB Stadium, this Saturday night.
Last week, the Force went down meekly to the Stormers 24-8 in Cape Town. The Force were made to defend for the majority of the match, and could not get their game going until the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Lions were outmuscled 41-13 in Sydney by the Waratahs, whose power game proved too much for the men from Johannesburg to cope with for 80 minutes.
Head to head, the Force are 5-1 against the Lions. At home, the Perth based team are 2-1, and in the last five matches are undefeated.
The seventh-placed Force look to notch up another win against South African opposition in order to keep pace with the top six, as the 14th-placed Lions look to win for the second time in Perth since 2007, and second time in history against the Force.
The Force has made a few changes in their starting lineup. The only change in the forwards is the return of lock Wilhelm Steenkamp to the run-on side. Adam Coleman is relegated to the bench.
The backs are largely unchanged, except for the injury to utility back Marcel Brache (ankle). Dane Haylett-Petty returns from injury (groin), for a straight swap at wing.
The Lions have been hit hard by injury. There are six changes in the forwards: props Corne Fourie and Ruan Dreyer, and hooker Armand van der Merwe start, forming a completely new front row, while Rudi Mathee and Franco Mostert are the lock pairing. Warwick Tecklenburg is promoted from the bench to start in the backrow.
Meanwhile, in the backs: scrumhalf Ross Cronje is promoted to the starting XV in place of Faf de Klerk, as Anthony Volmink starts on the left wing. Alwyn Hollenbach and Deon van Rensburg start at inside and outside centre respectively, and Coenie van Wyk will be at fullback.
Key Match Ups
Leading By Example: Warren Whiteley v Matt Hodgson
Unlucky to miss out on the Springboks squad, Whiteley has been outstanding for his side this year. In a mixed season for the Lions, the rangy and dynamic eighthman’s workrate is rarely topped. Whiteley has the second highest tackle count in the competition, with 137 in eleven appearances. Being sixth in the competition for lineout takes (41), he is a dependable lineout option as well as a contributor in the loose. When he is on the field, the Lions lift, as the Force do with Matt Hodgson.
The 32-year-old Hodgson goes from strength to strength. Playing arguably the best form of his career, he has earned a Wallabies recall on the back of the Force’s resurgence. The heart and soul of the team, he has been there when the Force hit rock bottom in 2012, and is prominent now in its breakout season. Hodgson is the leading tackler in Super Rugby this year with 179 in eleven appearances, and leads in turnovers won (23).
Directing the Play: Marnitz Boshoff v Sias Ebersohn
In a game likely to be decided by seven points or less, the role of the kicker, and to a greater extent, the flyhalves, will be crucial. Boshoff and Ebersohn are similar in playing style: being facilitators whose first option is to pass and kick, the latter of which they are proficient at. They are both also handy with the kicking tee; Boshoff is among the top ten in the competition for goal kicking, and Ebersohn is no slouch either.
The Set Piece Battle: Scrum & Lineout
The set piece of the Force is much improved from last week. The front row of Pek Cowan, Nathan Charles and Kieran Longbottom has held its own against some very good South African scrums, and has been rewarded with Wallabies call-ups for Cowan and Charles. Against the Stormers, the Force scrum (with one man in the bin) won a tighthead against the feed, despite McCalman locking in the second row.
The Force lineout is improving, but their defence against the lineout drive was exposed last weekend. The lineout will be bolstered by Steenkamp’s inclusion into the starting XV.
In comparison, the Lions’ setpiece is underestimated. The Lions scrum this year has a success rate of 93% – number one in the competition. Compare that to the Force whose scrum success rate is 83%, and it is clear that the Lions’ coaches will be targeting this area. With the complete change to the front row, it will be interesting to see what bearing it has on the strength of their scrum.
Their lineout, too, is functional. Looking at the tapes of the Force, the Lions will be looking to get some pay with their rolling maul.
The Force return from a gruelling South African tour, and will no doubt be feeling the effects of the travel. In the same light, the Lions have been on the road in Australasia and have yet to win outside South Africa.
The Force had the opportunity last week to become the most victorious team in the club’s history but slipped up. They wont likely make the same mistake twice, especially in front of the ‘Sea of Blue’.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann will be targetting this match as a ‘must win’, as they hope to return home with at least one victory under their belt.
But as this game is more important to the Force than the Lions, in terms of making the play-offs, the Force will be extremely motivated to win it at all costs.
Force by 5.
|Pek Cowan||1||Corne Fourie|
|Nathan Charles||2||Armand van der Merwe|
|Kieran Longbottom||3||Ruan Dreyer|
|Sam Wykes||4||Rudi Mathee|
|Wilhelm Steenkamp||5||Franco Mostert|
|Angus Cottrell||6||Jaco Kriel|
|Matt Hodgson (c)||7||Warwick Tecklenburg|
|Ben McCalman||8||Warren Whiteley (capt)|
|Ian Prior||9||Ross Cronje|
|Sias Ebersohn||10||Marnitz Boshoff|
|Nick Cummins||11||Anthony Volmink|
|Luke Burton||12||Alwyn Hollenbach|
|Chris Tuatara-Morrison||13||Deon van Rensburg|
|Dane Haylett-Petty||14||JW Jonker|
|Jayden Hayward||15||Coenie van Wyk|
|Heath Tessmann||16||Robbie Coetzee|
|Tetera Faulkner||17||Jacques van Rooyen|
|Ollie Hoskins||18||Julian Redelinghuys|
|Adam Coleman||19||Willie Britz|
|Brynard Stander||20||Stephan de Wit|
|Justin Turner||21||Faf de Klerk|
|Zack Holmes||22||Elton Jantjies|
|Patrick Dellit||23||Stefan Watermeyer|
|Kickoff:||Sat 24 May 19:40|
|Assistant Ref 1:||James Leckie.|
|Assistant Ref 2:||Ian Smith|
|TMO :||Peter Marshall.|