The injury-hit Force begin a tough two-week tour of New Zealand against the Hurricanes in Palmerston North on Friday.
The injury-hit Western Force begin a tough two-week tour of New Zealand against the Hurricanes in Palmerston North on Friday.
Forced to travel without first-choice back-line players James O'Connor, Willia Ripia, Brett Sheehan as well as Gene Fairbanks, the visitors will have it all to do at FMG Stadium.
On the other end of the scale, the Hurricanes – fresh from their bye – welcome back All Black duo Cory Jane and Conrad Smith with scrum-half Piri Weepu set for another run off the bench.
Starting against the Force, the 11th-placed Hurricanes will be eager to end the final month of a forgettable Super Rugby season on a high. With three wins and two draws in their 12 games to date, the 12th-placed Force will also be keen to make the most of their last three matches.
Their run home after this includes the Highlanders in Dunedin, the Reds at home and the Rebels in Melbourne.
The Force are coming off a 13-13 draw with the struggling Brumbies at nib Stadium in Perth and the loss of O'Connor, who has played in every game so far this season and who is also the competition's second highest points scorer (with 156), will be hard to overcome.
But returning Wallaby full-back Cameron Shepherd believes O'Connor's absence provides a golden opportunity for some of the younger members of the squad to step up and show what they've got to offer.
“It's a big blow, James is a great player but then again it forces all the other players now to step up and we've got some exciting young guys coming on the trip because of injuries and as a youngster you look forward to these opportunities,” said Shepherd.
“You throw guys in the deep end and hope they make the most of it.”
After 12 games, the Hurricanes and the Force have a similar attacking and defensive record. The Hurricanes have scored 229 points and conceded 309, while the Force have scored 236 and conceded 320.
The Hurricanes and the Force have previously met five times since the Perth-based side joined the then new and expanded Super 14 in 2006. The Hurricanes have won four times and the Force once.
Last year the Hurricanes outscored the Force seven tries to three and won 47-22 in Wellington, with David Smith – who will line up for the Force this time round – scoring two tries.
Prediction: Just two points separate the two teams on the overall log, so one would expect a pretty even contest. However, the hosts welcome back some serious firepower in their back-line, while the loss of match-winner O'Connor will hurt the Force's chances. Hurricanes by nine.
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Andre Taylor, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Chris Eaton, 8 Victor Vito (c), 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Dane Coles, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Jayden Hayward, 22 Julian Savea.
Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 David Smith, 10 James Stannard, 9 Mark Swanepoel, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Kieran Longbottom.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Tom Hockings, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Chris Cottee, 21 Mitch Inman, 22 Alfie Mafi.
Date: Friday, May 27
Kick-off: 19.35 (07:35 GMT)
Venue: FMG Stadium, Palmerston North (New Zealand)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Vinny Munro (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
Television match official: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)