Preview: Rebels v Force

Date published: June 11 2015

Too far off the pace to compete in the Australian Conference, the Rebels and the Force will finish their Super Rugby season playing for pride.

It's a battle between 10th and 15th place at the end of a year where the Rebels have made real progress, while the Force have dramatically slid back to square one after falling just short of the Finals Series last year.

Right from their shock away win in Christchurch the Rebels have set out to surprise us all season, picking up a franchise-best seven wins on their way.

Strong home form has been the backbone of their half-challenge for the Australian title, winning their last four in a row at AAMI Park and looking to make it five straight home victories for the first time in their history.

Seeing players like Sean McMahon, Pat Leafa, Luke Jones, Jordy Reid, Nic Stirzaker and Jack Debreczeni make progress, along with the signing of James Hanson, will have given Rebels' fans huge hope for the future.

Their scrum has been the third best in the competition with a 92 percent success rate, although their line-out in fact has been the worst.

The Force will look to exploit that weakness as they go for just a third win all season – the only time they've finished with less than that landmark was back in their first season in 2006 when they registered a single victory.

To make matters worse, the Rebels have won seven of the nine Super Rugby meetings between these two sides and have won their last three at home to the Force.

The Force have scored the fewest tries this year and have the second-worst tackle success rate in Super Rugby, making it obvious where their problems lie.

For such a proud side led so well by Matt Hodgson, this has been a year to forget despite doing the double over last year's champions, the Waratahs.

Those in Perth will be already thinking about 2016, but bowing out on a high this Friday would give them something to sweet to chew on during the off-season.

"It's been a disappointing season but we really want to finish on a high," Hodgson told WA Today. 

"We've looked back on how beating the Brumbies at the end of 2013 catapaulted us into the new year and we hope we can replicate that again on Friday."

The last time these teams met: A narrow 21-17 win for the Rebels ended their two-game losing streak thanks to tries from Mike Harris and Dom Shipperley, with Harris adding 11 points off the boot to cancel out tries from Alby Mathewson and Tetera Faulkner.

Players to watch: Having led the Rebels outstandingly this year, Scott Higginbotham is pushing for contention to be selected by the Wallabies at the World Cup. The 28-year-old has registered five tries and three assists for the side this season and his athleticism both around the field and in the lineout should put him in the frame for Australia. His young team-mate Sean McMahon is another to keep an eye on.

For the Force, the Honey Badger desperately needs some meat. Nick Cummins has only registered a single try in 2015 for the Force and with the Wallabies not exactly short of wingers, Cummins needs to impress to keep his name fresh in Michael Cheika's thoughts. Still a potent finisher, it's been a tough year for the Force and for Cummins. Sam Wykes plays his final game for the side before heading to Japan.

Team news: The Rebels are unchanged from the 23 that edged the Bulls last week, as Dom Shipperley continues at outside centre in the absence of Tamati Ellison. An under-rated forward pack, which includes the hard-working Luke Jones, stands out.

Back-rower Angus Cottrell will start at the back of the scrum in place of Ben McCalman, after the Wallabies number eight  was ruled out with a fractured cheekbone sustained in last weekend's match against the Brumbies. Cottrell's position on the blindside flank will be taken by Chris Alcock. Steve Mafi returns to the starting line-up in place of lock Adam Coleman, while in the front row, Tetera Faulkner has been reinstated in the starting tighthead prop role.

Form: The Rebels ended a three-game losing streak to the Reds, Stormers and Sharks by defeating the Bulls by just a single point last Friday in Melbourne, their seventh win of the year. They have achieved back-to-back wins twice already this season, looking to do so for the third time this weekend. The Rebels have accumulated more losing bonus points (four) than try bonus points (three) so far in 2015.

As for the Force, they have lost their last three games since defeating the Waratahs at home in Perth, a win that ended a nine-game run without a victory itself since their opening day success away from home in Sydney. They have the exact same bonus points as the Rebels and are aiming for to finish on three wins, a low total they last reached in 2012.

Prediction: Given the Rebels' recent home record and their results over the Force in the last ten matches, we're backing them to make it five home wins in a row. Rebels by 10!

Previous results:

2015: Rebels won 21-17 in Perth
2014: Rebels won 22-16 in Melbourne
2014: Force won 32-7 in Perth

2013: Rebels won 30-23 in Perth

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Bryce Hegarty, 13 Dom Shipperley, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Jordy Reid, 22 Ben Meehan, 23 Tom English.

Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Chris Alcock, 5 Steve Mafi, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Patrick Dellit, 24 Oliver Hoskins.

Date: Friday, June 12
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19:40 local (08:40 GMT, 21:40 NZST, 10:40 SAST
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia) 
Assistant Referees: James Leckie, Ed Martin (both Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)