The South African stretch of the Force's Super Rugby season starts on Saturday when they host a bruised Bulls outfit in Perth.
The South African stretch of the Western Force's Super Rugby season starts on Saturday when they host a bruised Bulls outfit in Perth.
Ahead of their tour to the Republic and having lost seven of their last eight encounters against South African opposition, the Force would have put greater emphasis on aspects like their physical approach and structure at set-phase, although their recent form at home would suggest that Michael Foley has struck the right balance in his squad to achieve victory over just about any team.
In the build-up, Foley would have focussed on his team's accuracy at scrum time as they were particularly poor in that area during last week's loss to the Rebels.
And when considering that they face the Cheetahs, Stormers and Lions in the following weeks, the Force's hopes of reaching the play-offs will depend on their ability to adapt to a style of play that may not necessarily compliment the way they have gone about their business.
“For us, having the four South African sides means we have to meet some of those challenges over the next four weeks if we're to have a successful year,” Foley said in the build-up to the contest.
The Force welcomed back full-back Jayden Hayward and lock Sam Wykes, but winger Luke Morahan and scrum-half Alby Mathewson have yet to recover from injury.
The absence of Mathewson in particular, could play in to the hands of the Bulls who will have Springbok Francois Hougaard back at his post after he spent some time out on the wing while Akona Ndungane was out injured.
In another boost to the Bulls backline, full-back Jurgen Visser returns to the fold after watching his team's loss to the Waratahs from the sidelines.
The Bulls will have to complete this one without skipper Flip van der Merwe who is serving a three-match suspension for foul play.
But that should be an unsettling factor as they seemingly have an ending supply of world class second-rowers to pick from.
One such lock who recently decided to seek greener pastures is Wilhelm Steenkamp and he will start from the bench for the Force this week.
It has been reported that Steenkamp had given his new team mates a few pointers on how the Bulls go about securing line-out possession although Foley was slightly more concerned with the work that is being conducted by Bjorn Basson under the high-ball.
“Bjorn Basson as a winger sets the benchmark for the tournament in terms of coming through and contesting that ball,” Foley said.
“It's OK to say 'we've got to catch them.”
The visitors will have to be sharp even when defending in their opponents' half, as the Force have scored more tries (nine) than any other side when it comes to possessions that originated within their own territory.
For Bulls coach Frans Ludeke the message this week is straight forward for a team that last won a match more than a month ago.
“We have to get back to winning ways and this is a final opportunity to turn our tour into a positive,” said Ludeke.
“If we can bag a win here and add the losing bonus points we collected earlier on tour, the reward would justify the hard work we have put in.”
Form: The Force were unable to extend their five-match winning streak which started with a win over the Rebels when they lost to the same team in the away leg last week. Although showing steady improvement, the Bulls have lost their last three matches and will be desperate to win at least once before returning to South Africa.
2013: Bulls won 36-25 in Pretoria
2011: Force won 26-21 in Perth
2010: Bulls won 28-15 in Perth
2009: Bulls won 32-29 in Pretoria
Prediction: Having beaten the Chiefs and Waratahs at home, the Force should fancy their chances of getting one over a South African side as well. The Bulls, however, have steadily progressed towards that perfect game and are desperate. It might be an upset, but the Bulls should sneak in and win it by three.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Adam Coleman, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements:16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Chris Tuatara-Morrison
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Dean Greyling
Replacements:16 Bandise Maku, 17 MornÃ© Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 HandrÃ© Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers
Date: Saturday, April 26
Venue: NIB Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 17.40 local ()9.40 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Matt O'Brien (Australia)