Preview: Force v Rebels

Date published: March 12 2015

In their brief history the Rebels have a winning record against only one team, they'll be hoping to extend in Perth on Friday.

The Melbourne franchise have won six games out of eight against the Force, although only once has there been more than a one-score difference between the teams.

Both sides produced stunning results to start the season, downing last season's Super Rugby finalists on their own patch, the Force against the Waratahs, the Rebels away to the Crusaders.

Since then, it's been a return to earth with a bump, with no wins from five between the two teams, but the Rebels were not far away against both the Tahs and the Brumbies.

And having since enjoyed a week off during their bye, returning flanker and co-captain Scott Fuglistaller wants them to learn how to close out tight games.

"We spoke about wanting to eliminate those close games, last year we lost six or seven games by seven points or less – the season before was similar," he said.

"Those games are the one championship teams need to win, with experience you start to put away a few of those games – we have to get over in those tight victories.

"Those mental errors are something we have to take out of our game."

The last time these team met: The Force came into the game on a five-match winning streak, but had to settle for a losing bonus point in Melbourne as the Rebels won 22-16. Scott Higginbotham scored the hosts' only try, with Jason Woodward adding 17 points with the boot. Meanwhile Nick Cummins' try in the final seconds was enough to ensure the Western Australians didn't go home empty-handed.

Players to watch: Steve Mafi impressed for the Force a week ago, grabbing his first try and generally proving a nuisance against the Brumbies.

The Rebels have been ferocious up front so he'll need to more of the same in this one. Meanwhile Luke Jones, winning his 50th Super Rugby cap at the age of just 23, will provide a stern test opposite Mafi. Behind the scrum, Nic Stirzaker showed on the opening weekend just how dangerous he can be if given any space.

Team news: The Force have made just one change to their starting lineup, with the injured Luke Morahan replaced by Will Burton at full-back.

The Rebels have also made one change, with Scott Fuglistaller coming in at openside for Colby Fainga'a, who drops to the bench.

Form: After a promising start to the season with a win at the Waratahs, the Force have gone off the boil, losing their last three games. While they provided stubborn resistance against the Brumbies last week, it's been a disappointing start to the campaign.

Like the Force, the Rebels come into the game off the back of a loss to the Brumbies, having had a bye last weekend. After their shock opening win away to the Crusaders, they've been beaten in two Australian derbies. A third straight defeat to their compatriots and they will again find themselves scrapping near the bottom of the table.

Prediction: The Force's only previous home game saw them hammered by the Hurricanes, but they should be more competitive here. The Rebels have looked the more impressive side so far this season, and do have the advantage of an extra week's rest. So although the game is being played in Perth, we think Tony McGahan's men might just edge it. Rebels by 3!

Previous results: 
2014: Rebels 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
2012: Rebels won 32-31 in Perth
2012: Rebels won 30-29 in Melbourne
2011: Force won 27-24 in Melbourne
2011: Rebels won 26-25 in Perth

The teams:

Western Force: 15 Luke Burton, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Solomoni Jnr Rasolea, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Steve Mafi, 4 Sam Wykes (c), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Sias Ebersohn, 23 Mitchell Scott.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Sefanaia Naivalu

Date: Friday, March 13
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 19.00 local (11.00 GMT, 22.00 NZST, 13.00 SAST)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Matt O'Brien (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)