The Western Force host the Melbourne Rebels in Perth on Saturday and judging from recent clashes between these sides this should be a close encounter.
Of the last six matches in this fixture, the winning side have won by seven or less points on five occasions with the exception being in 2014 in Perth when the home side ran out 32-7 winners.
Both these teams head into this clash brimming with confidence after winning all their pre-season matches and will want to get one over their counterparts by claiming bragging rights in this fixture.
Force boss Michael Foley highlighted the importance of starting the season in style.
“Round one is a great opportunity for every player in the team to put what we’ve practiced into action,” he said.
“From the beginning of our preparation, every player & staff member has committed to bravely chase the standards & style game of game we believe will bring us success and we’re all looking forward to our first step.”
Despite claiming victory in four of the five previous meetings against the Force in Perth, including a 21-17 victory in Round 5 last year, the Rebels are not underestimating their hosts.
Replacement flanker Colby Fainga’a is taking nothing for granted.
“Everyone is really excited to get the first game out of the way,” the said.
“We tend to start the season quite well so we’re looking forward to seeing how we go this weekend but we’re really going to need to take our attack to the next level.”
The last time these teams met: The Force edged out the Rebels 13-11 in Melbourne in what was Rebels number eight Scott Higginbotham’s final match for the franchise. A late Luke Morahan try ruined Higginbotham’s farewell. The Force led 6-3 at half-time but the game came alive late in the second half when Morahan crossed for his five-pointer and Telusa Veainu also crossed for the Rebels’ only try.
Players to watch:
After six seasons at the Reds, Wallaby centre Ben Tapuai has made the switch to the Force and his direct running style and playmaking abilities should keep the Rebels’ defence busy. Tapuai should be a key player for the Force this year and he will want to make a big impact on his competitive debut for his new side.
For the Rebels, highly-rated young flanker Sean McMahon has come on in leaps and bounds and he will be keen to continue where he left off in 2015 when he was one of his side’s best players. With Rebels captain Nic Stirzaker ruled out od this match through injury, MacMahon has taken over captaincy and it will be interesting to see how the added responsibility affects his game.
Five players are set to make their debuts for the Force. Former Reds team-mates Jono Lance and Ben Tapuai will both be in the starting XV, while Jermaine Ainsley, Peter Grant and Semisi Masirewa are all set to come off the bench. Wallabies flanker Matt Hodgson will lead the team for the fourth year in a row. He is joined in the back row by Angus Cottrell and Brynard Stander while Pek Cowan packs down in the front row alongside Guy Millar, Nathan Charles. In the backline, Dane Haylett-Petty wears the number 15 jersey while Luke Morahan and Marcel Brache start on the wings.
The Rebels will start their campaign without newly appointed captain Nic Stirzaker who is nursing a shoulder injury. This means Ben Meehan will start at scrum-half. He forms a halfback partnership with Jack Debreczeni. Left winger Reece Hodge will make his Super Rugby debut and starts in the back three alongside fellow flyer Dom Shipperley amnd full-back Mike Harris. Sean McMahon will resume the leadership in Stirzaker’s absence. He is joined in the back row by Jordy Reid and former All Black Adam Thomson who is the number eight.
Form: The Force have impressed in their pre-season fixtures. In their opening warm-up match they claimed a 28-0 victory over the Hurricanes before beating the Asia Pacific Dragons 34-26.
The Rebels started with a 28-13 triumph over the Reds, before securing a narrow 25-24 win over the Highlanders in their second friendly. They then thrashed a second string Samoa XV 85-0 in their final warm-up fixture.
Prediction: This should be an evenly contested clash as their is little to separate these two teams. The Force are at home but the Rebels are team on the up. Rebels to win by three points.
2015: Force won 13-11 in Melbourne
2015: Rebels won 21-17 in Perth
2014: Force won 22-16 in Melbourne
2014: Force won 32-7 in Perth
2013: Rebels won 30-23 in Perth
2013: Rebels won 30-23 in Melbourne
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Guy Millar, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Chris Alcock, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Semisi Masirewa
Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon (c), 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jonah Placid, 23 Tom English
Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 18:50 local (10:50 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)