Two sides in contrasting moods kick-off Round 2 of Super Rugby as the Force face off with the Reds at nib Stadium on Thursday.
Put simply the only way is up for the Force following that poor game against the Waratahs while the Reds will have their tails up after they overcame the Sharks. Nick Stiles will therefore be determined to build on that win and claim a result that takes them provisionally top.
Only once before this century have the Reds won their first two games of a season and they will be eager to do just that as they go west. They’ve the players to get the win as Stephen Moore, George Smith, Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi’s quality makes them favourite.
A positive for the Force to take into this match is that they have won five of their last eight games against the Reds, including a 22-6 victory in their last meeting. The Reds meanwhile have lost each of their last eight games away from home so simply must improve on the road.
Furthermore, five of the Force’s last six victories have come against Australian rivals, their win against Sunwolves last season the only exception in this run. However anything similar to how they performed against the Waratahs last weekend and hoodoos will count for little.
In Sydney the Force made a total of 63 passes and 172 metres with ball in hand the whole game. Breaking it down their top metre maker was Dane Haylett-Petty on 36, with the team making a total of three clean breaks in the 80 minutes. Those are worrying numbers.
The Reds should therefore prevail due to the aforementioned players in their arsenal. Cooper displayed glimpses of his class against the Sharks while Higginbotham’s always a threat, as is Kerevi. Throw in Smith, Moore and James Slipper’s experience and they look solid.
Let’s then hope for a contest as entertaining as last week’s in Brisbane, not that disappointing Sydney spectacle, for those who turn out to support the Force, with head coach Dave Wessels urging fans to back their team.
“We are very excited to play in front of our home crowd for the first time this season, and I think there is a rallying call for West Australians, that if you love rugby and if you want to see Super Rugby continue in this state, whether you support the Force or not, you need to come on Thursday night,” he said in a call to arms for the locals to help recreate the fortress they had in past seasons.
The last time these teams met: The Reds suffered a shock 22-6 loss at home last year in Round 2, a result which followed a defeat to the Waratahs. Force fly-half Jono Lance kicked five penalties out of five to Ayumu Goromaru’s two from four before a last-minute try from Luke Morahan, converted by Ian Prior, added the gloss on a solid win for the Force. The loss led to Richard Graham’s sacking at the Reds.
Players to watch: After a dismal fixture between the Waratahs and Force, let us hope for more attacking opportunities for the likes of Dane Haylett-Petty and Curtis Rona in the hosts’ backline. Rona makes his home bow and will want to make a strong impression, as will Chance Peni. Rona made just two carries last week in Sydney while Peni had three so they must address that if the Force are to prevail.
Meanwhile for the Reds, centre Samu Kerevi again proved his worth to both franchise and country last week with two powerful scores. When he’s hungry and given chances, more often than not he produces the goods, so the Reds must feed their Wallaby if they are to make it two wins out of two this campaign. Of course Quade Cooper‘s showing will have a knock-on effect to how Kerevi fares so watch him also.
Team news: Force head coach Dave Wessels has brought young lock Matt Philip into the starting line-up and he will link with Wallaby Adam Coleman in the second-row. In other changes, Ross Haylett-Petty will move to blindside and Brynard Stander starst at number eight. New recruit Ben Daley will get his first start in the blue shirt at loosehead prop, making a straight swap with stalwart Pek Cowan.
Reds head coach Nick Stiles has made just one change to his squad which beat the Sharks in Round One of the competition. Prop Taniela Tupou has been named in the reserves following the completion of his two-week suspension due to foul play in the Brisbane 10s. Outside back Izaia Perese remains in line to make his Reds and Super Rugby debut, after missing out on taking the field in last week’s win.
Form: The Reds got their Super Rugby season off to a winning start as they edged the Sharks 28-26 in Brisbane. Tries from Scott Higginbotham, Samu Kerevi (2) and James Tuttle sealed the win for the Queenslanders, despite them being down to 14 players on two separate occasions. The Sharks’ scorers were Jean-Luc du Preez and Tera Mtembu with Pat Lambie kicking 13 points. He missed a late penalty.
It was not however the same story for the Force as they went down 19-13 to the Waratahs in Sydney. Jono Lance scored all of their points but the men from Perth will have been kicking themselves after letting a 13-9 half-time lead go to waste as lock Will Skelton’s try proved decisive.
Prediction: After the misery of Sydney last week it’s hard to see the Western Force make the necessary improvements to put the points on the board against a Reds side that will cross the line. Back-to-back wins would be fantastic news for the visitors. Reds by six points.
2016: Force won 22-6 in Brisbane
2015: Reds won 32-10 in Perth
2015: Reds won 18-6 in Brisbane
2014: Force won 30-20 in Perth
2014: Force won 32-29 in Brisbane
2013: 11-11 draw in Perth
2013: Force won 19-12 in Brisbane
2012: Force won 45-19 in Perth
2012: Reds won 35-20 in Brisbane
Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Chance Peni, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Heath Tessmann (c), 1 Ben Daley
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Richard Hardwick, 20 Isi Naisarani, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Alex Newsome
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Jake McIntyre, 23 Izaia Perese
Date: Thursday, March 2
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 18:30 local (10:30 GMT)
Referee: Federico Anselmi
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffmann, Graham Cooper
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore