For the second week in a row at Nib stadium we see two teams sitting at or near the bottom of the table
The Force endured yet another heartbreaking close loss at the hands of the Rebels last Sunday. By my count, that makes it about four close ones this year and the second against the Rebels. Win a few of those and the season has some air of respectability. And that’s been the problem all season: an inability to put the tight games away. There are a multitude of reasons that could be given for this, but the frustration remains nonetheless. The desire and heart appear to be there, but the smarts and guile appear not to be.
The season for the Lions has been a bit the same. They have a pretty good crack it every week from what I’ve seen and last week against the Reds was no exception. In the first quarter of the game they were actually in charge, I thought, but didn’t convert the pressure into points. They’ve got a useful pack and a couple of pretty good backs. They haven’t been on the end of too many outright floggings this year and probably deserve better than to be 1-11 at this stage of the season.
This game will be less about the contrasting in styles that we saw last week, as both teams play reasonably similarly. The Lions will try to get their big pack smashing it up over the gain line and pressure the Force in the set pieces and I imagine the Force will try to do the same. The difference will be more in the play making positions, where the Lions on paper are more talented. The Force will try to keep the Lions in their own half to reduce the risk of one of the young Lions backs busting through the line. As the defensive stats posted recently on G&GR showed, that will be easier said than done for the Force defence. They miss a lot of first up tackles and it could hurt them tomorrow.
The Force will welcome back Nick Cummins, though back in the wing spot as opposed to outside centre. Young Tupou showed some good signs at 13 last week and deserves to keep his place. He made a couple of great busting line breaks and hopefully he can link up with the rapid back three that the Force possess. Alfie Mafi also had a great game in the second 40 last week and hopefully we’ll see more of the same. He’s quietly developed in a much more complete footballer this year and is starting to warm to playing at fullback. It’s also good to see that he’s likely to be around next year too.
Western Force: 1. Pek Cowan 2. Nathan Charles 3. Salesi Ma’afu 4. Toby Lynn 5. Nathan Sharpe 6. Matt Hodgson 7. David Pocock 8. Ben McCalman 9. Brett Sheehan 10. Ben Seymour 11. Napolioni Nalaga 12. Rory Sidey 13. Will Tupou 14. Nick Cummins 15. Alfie Mafi
Replacements 16. Elvis Taione 17. Salesi Manu 18. Phoenix Battye 19. Richard Brown 20. Lachlan McCaffrey 21. Josh Holmes 22. David Harvey
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon Van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Jaco Taute, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Franco Van der Merwe, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 CJ Van der Linde.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Cobus Grobbelaar, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Ruan Combrinck, 22 James Kamana.
Date: Saturday, 26 May
Venue: Nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 19:40 WST
Referee: Garratt Williamson
I reckon the young inside backs of the Lions will probably decide this. Jantjies in particular is a real goer and I enjoy watching him play. If he can get some good ball from his pack I reckon he could carve up. Michael Killian is also very useful and provides some pace and skill out wide. I think the Force defence could have their hands full.
This is going to be the battle of who can suck less, which isn’t surprising when you consider the ladder positions of our protagonists. I wouldn’t expect to see a feast of sparkling running rugby, but neither do I expect a dour defensive struggle — neither defence is that watertight. I reckon it’ll be close and the Lions might just pull it off, because they offer a bit more in attack. Lions by 3.