Preview: Blues v Force

Date published: May 1 2015

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The two worst teams in Super Rugby face off in Auckland with time running out to save their dismal seasons.

The Blues might be playing for Sir John Kirwan's job, but whatever their end of season, it's difficult to see them finishing anything other than bottom of the New Zealand conference.

Currently 14 points behind the Crusaders, a home game against the Force at least provides the opportunity to turn things around.

That's because the Force have won just once all season, and that came on the opening day against the Waratahs.

They have an extra incentive this week though, having seen last season's play-off ambitions derailed by a home defeat to the Blues.

Angus Cottrell admits it's still fresh in the memories of the Australian side, who have lost nine in a row.

"(Assistant coach) Dave Wessels brought us into a meeting during the week and reminded us what happened last year," Cottrell said.

"We're going to use that as a bit of an incentive to beat the Blues this weekend."

The last time these team met: It was a very one-sided affair when the teams last met a year ago in Perth. The Blues cruised to a 40-14 win against the play-off chasing Force, going up 26-0 thanks to four tries in the first 18 minutes. Ihaia West, Charlie Faumuina, Lolagi Visinia and Ma'a Nonu gave the Blues a bonus point in the first quarter. They added two more in the second half, through Luke Braid and Pita Ahki to complete the thumping win, despite second-half Force tries from Nathan Charles and Brynard Stander.

Players to watch: Akira Ioane was huge for the Blues last week and he retains his spot at blindside. At just 19, he is a huge talent, and expect him to make a big impact against a strong Force back row.

For the Force Kyle Godwin has been seen as a prodigious talent for a while now, but this season he's struggled to hit top form. Talked about as a potential member of the Wallaby World Cup squad, he looks a long way off at the moment. A match-up with Francis Saili will give him the chance to prove a point.

Team news: Some big guns return for the Blues with starts for Jerome Kaino and Charles Piutau. Arguably the Blues' top performers this season, they will be joined by the returning Luke Braid in the starting lineup, with Dan Bowden and Jimmy Cowan continuing their half-back partnership.

The Force have been forced into changes at scrum-half with Ian Prior suspended and Alby Mathewson injured. As a result, Ryan Louwrens will make his first Super Rugby start in the only change to the team that lost to the Chiefs. Michael Foley is also waiting on lock Adam Coleman who is an injury doubt.

Form: Neither side is really in any sort of form, with two wins between them from 20 matches so far this campaign. The Blues' only win was against the Brumbies last month, while the Force haven't won since the opening round at the Waratahs. Last time out the Blues were comfortably beaten by the Crusaders in Christchurch, while the Force kept it respectable against the Chiefs despite a first-half red card for scrum-half Ian Prior.

Predictions: A battle at the basement and given neither side has any form to speak of, you've got to favour the home team. The Blues have only ever lost once to the Force, and the return of their All Blacks should be enough. Blues by 9!

Previous results:

2014: Blues won 40-14 in Perth
2012: Blues won 32-9 in Auckland
2011: The teams drew 22-22 in Perth
2010: Blues won 38-17 in Auckland
2009: Blues won 25-19 in Perth
2008: Force won 27-17 in North Harbour
 
The teams:
 
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau. 14 Lolagi Visinia, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala/Hamish Northcott, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis/Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Hamish Northcott/Tevita Li.

Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman/Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp/Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Marcel Brache, 23 Junior Rasolea

Date: Saturday, May 2
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 17:30 local (05:30 GMT, 15:30 AEST, 07:30 SAST)
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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