Two evenly-matched teams go head-to-head in Perth as the Force take on the Reds knowing a win is vital to reach the playoffs.
Two evenly-matched teams go head-to-head in Perth as the Force take on the Reds knowing a win is vital if they are to reach the playoffs.
The Force will be smarting after last weekend's shock 40-14 defeat to the Blues on home turf; they had lost only one game in Perth this season before Saturday, and nor had Sir John Kirwan's men won away from home in over 15 attempts.
Things were, to all intents and purposes, over after just 18 minutes – the Blues had a bonus point in the bag, and the Force had barely touched the ball. There was no sign of the watertight defence that has characterised their efforts and galvanised their squad in Super Rugby 2014, and when they did get some pill, it was with unimaginative labour that they tried to attack.
Those efforts may still yield rewards in the form of a spot in the playoffs, a scenario most on the outside would have sniggered at during pre-season, the Force never having finished higher than ninth place since their inception in 2006.
But inspired by skipper Matt Hodgson – who has six tries and astonishing, competition-leading (by a mile) 217 tackles to his name – and Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins, the plucky Perth franchise have left plenty eating their words.
Indeed, for the Reds – resurgent last week as they aim to close the book on a season to forget – the Force have often proved a frustrating adversary, the Queensland side failing to register a win against their rivals in the past four times of asking.
Richard Graham's men are blighted by injuries – most notably to Will Genia and Quade Cooper – and a malaise that seemed to have swept through and crippled the red ranks, before the shackles were released last week and the backs ran riot in Melbourne.
While the Force have to win, as they did in Canberra courtesy of a stunning, last-gasp Jayden Hayward try, to keep their hopes of a playoff alive, there is little at stake for the visitors besides pride, and a chance for the Wallaby hopefuls and contenders to get one over on a Test rival.
However, James Horwill and co will be hurting just as much if not more than their hosts this weekend after a disastrous campaign, not to mention their recent record against the Force, and will take great delight in playing the role of party-poopers.
Graham brings in Lachie Turner, who played well at AAMI Park after replacing the stricken Dom Shipperley, on the wing while impressive youngster Samu Kerevi starts in midfield, and Ben Daley wins a place at loosehead prop.
The hosts are also without their first choice half-back pairing as Alby Mathewson and Sias Ebersohn nurse injuries, though they welcome back Cummins, and field an all-Wallaby back-row as Hugh McMenamin and Ben McCalman join Hodgson.
Form: The Force have won two of their last five games, beating lowly South African franchises the Cheetahs and the Lions, but going down to the Stormers and Crusaders away from home before Saturday's Blues mauling.
The Reds, meanwhile, recorded only their fifth victory of the season against the Rebels last weekend, and the first time they have notched back-to-back wins having beaten the Highlanders in the previous round.
2014:Force won 32-29 in Brisbane
2013: Both teams drew 11-11 in Perth
2013: Force won 19-12 in Brisbane
2012: Force won 45-19 in Perth
2012: Reds won 35-20 in Brisbane
Prediction: A hard-fought contest between two evenly-matched Aussie teams. But the Force, with so much at stake, will come through. Force by 5.