In Round 18 of Super Rugby, the resurgent Queensland Reds travel westward with revenge on their minds, when they meet the hosts the Western Force in the only all-Australian derby of the weekend.
Last week, the Force were humbled at home by the travelling Blues, who took only 20 minutes to achieve the four-try bonus point in a 14-40 hiding.
Correspondingly, it all seemed to click for the Reds, as they, like the Blues, had the game all sewn up by half time. The 20-36 away victory in Melbourne made it two on the trot for the Queenslanders.
Head to head, the Force are 4-6-1 (win-loss-draw) against the Reds. The last time the teams met, the Force prevailed 29-32 after a last-ditch try from Hayward in the 78th minute.
The Force has made four changes to their starting 15. In the forwards: lock Wilhelm Steenkamp starts in place of Adam Coleman.
In the backs: injuries to scrumhalf Alby Mathewson (hip) and flyhalf Sias Ebersohn (bicep) means there is a new halves pairing of Ian Prior and Zack Holmes. Nick Cummins’ recovery from a neck injury means he will start at 11, and Rasolea will be relegated to the bench.
The Reds has made three changes to their starting 15, and a whole host of changes to their bench replacements as they continue to struggle with the mounting injury toll. In the forwards: Greg Holmes (knee) is replaced by loosehead prop Ben Daley, and James Slipper shifts to the other side of the scrum.
In the backs: centre Anthony Fainga’a (calf) and winger Dom Shipperley (ankle) are out. In their place, Samu Kerevi resumes the outside centre berth, and Tapuai fills the void left by Fainga’a and moves into his more natural position of inside centre. Lachie Turner will start at wing in Shipperley’s absence.
Key Match Ups
The key to winning this game will be dependent on which forward pack can work harder and more effective than its counterpart. Enter the backrowers.
The Force come into the game with an all Wallabies-capped trio of Hugh McMeniman (MMM), Matt Hodgson, and Ben McCalman. The physical and hard-working McCalman will make carries and tackles for the whole 80. The highly-lauded Hodgson is the defensive lynchpin of the backrow; he is the top tackler, pilferer, and try-scoring forward in the comp.
Above all, they are all combative at the breakdown. With Cottrell out injured, MMM in his place struggled to impose himself against the Blues. All three will need to rediscover their form if the Force are to win on Saturday night.
In comparison, the Reds come into this weekend’s clash with Curtis Browning, Beau Robinson, and Jake Schatz, of which only Browning is uncapped internationally. All the talk this season about the Reds backrow has been about the lack of impact in the form of a Higginbotham or Samo.
But guys like Robinson and Browning are more than capable of imposing themselves physically, as they did against the Rebels last week. They will need to repeat that effort against the Force.
As the Reds know the Force will do absolutely everything to disrupt their quick ball, the Queenslanders need to counter that by working harder off the ball to secure their breakdowns, as well as pressuring the breakdown on defence.
Expect both teams to go at it hammer and tongs, as they look for ascendancy in the set-piece battle. With mostly Wallabies-capped front rowers, and Horwill and Simmons providing grunt from behind, the Reds’ scrum has been unyielding compared to years gone by.
However, the loss of the understated Holmes to injury means there might be some chinks in the armour, especially with the dynamic Daley starting – who is a workhorse but is not noted for his scrummaging – and Slipper shifting to tighthead – where he has barely played all year.
The message by Foley to his players would be to put added pressure on at scrum time. The battle between Pek Cowan and James Slipper, and Kieran Longbottom and Ben Daley will be one for the ages.
Where the Reds concede at scrum time, the Force might concede at lineout time. With Wallabies Simmons and Horwill, as well as Jake Schatz and Curtis Browning, the Reds have a strong lineout unit, especially as Simmons and Schatz are in the top five in the comp for lineout takes.
With that being said, the Force lineout, organised by Wilhelm Steenkamp and Sam Wykes, has not been a liability. The men from the West will be sure to put pressure on Hanson, who has had the yips this year with his throwing.
There is no love lost between these two teams. The Reds will be intent on getting one over the Force, and in doing so, finish off what has been a horror season for them on a high. At the same time, the Force will want to make amends for their hammering at the hands of the Blues, and keep their finals hopes alive with a win.
Force by 2.
Force v Reds
Pek Cowan 1 Ben Daley
Nathan Charles 2 James Hanson
Kieran Longbottom 3 James Slipper
Sam Wykes 4 Rob Simmons
Wilhem Steenkamp 5 James Horwill
Hugh McMeniman 6 Curtis Browning
Matt Hodgson 7 Beau Robinson
Ben McCalman 8 Jake Schatz
Ian Prior 9 Nick Frisby
Zack Holmes 10 Ben Lucas
Nick Cummins 11 Lachie Turner
Chris Tuatara-Morrison 12 Ben Tapuai
Marcel Brache 13 Samu Kerevi
Dane Haylett-Petty 14 Rod Davies
Jayden Hayward 15 Mike Harris
Reserves Heath Tessmann 16 Saia Fainga'a
Tetera Faulkner 17 Albert Anae
Oliver Hoskins 18 Sef Faagase
Adam Coleman 19 Dave McDuling
Brynard Stander 20 Tim Buchanan
Justin Turner 21 Scott Gale
Dillyn Leyds 22 Sam Johnson
Solomoni Rasolea 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi
Location: nib Stadium Perth
Kickoff: Sat 5 Jul 19:40 Referee: Angus Gardner Assistant Ref 1: James Leckie Assistant Ref 2: Ian Smith TMO : peter Marshall