The Force will be looking for their first win against a New Zealand side in this year’s competition when they clash with the Chiefs in Perth on Saturday.
Despite the Force enjoying a bye last week and having home-ground advantage, one cannot see them coming away with anything against a potient Chiefs unit.
The gulf in class between the Australian sides and the New Zealand sides has been too apparent this season. And the statistics back this up. An Aussie side has yet to inflict defeat on a Kiwi team.
The Force have never beaten the Chiefs away, but they have beaten them twice out of five matches at home, which should serve to give the men from Perth some encouragement. The Force won 18-15 in 2014 and 22-21 in 2008 against the Chiefs in Perth.
Ben McCalman, Matt Phillips, Richie Arnold, Michael Ruru and Chance Peni are all out with injury for the Force. McCalman, the captain, will be a significant miss with the Australian side facing not just an injury problem, but one of leadership.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, are relatively unscathed and can boast an almost injury-free squad. Shaun Stevenson makes a return to the starting line-up and will look to serve up some more of the magic we witnessed against the Bulls, where he left Jamba Ulengo standing.
And Stevenson is the least of the Force’s worries. They’ll have to contend with star All Blacks Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane, Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick as they try to prove they are capable of beating the big teams and not just the small ones.
Their only victories in this year’s competition have come against minnows the Kings and the seriously under-achieving Reds.
Last time the teams met: The Chiefs massacred the Force by nine tries to one. A double from Damian McKenzie, a remarkable four from Charlie Ngatai and single tries from Michael Leitch, Toni Pulu and James Lowe ensured the Chiefs won 53-10. A dominant performance up front laid the platform for the Chiefs’ speedy backs to open the floodgates, especially McKenzie and Ngatai.
Players to watch: Full-back Damian McKenzie, for the Chiefs, is such an elusive runner and needs to be watched carefully. He has gained the most running metres in this year’s competition, a staggering 673 metres. Atunisa Moli is another impact player. He is fulfilling the potential that we witnessed since he captained the New Zealand under 20 side to the 2015 Junior World Rugby Championship trophy. He is an exceptionally powerful prop and is still remarkably only 21.
For the Force, it has to be winger Dane Haylett-Petty who has made an impressive 75 carries this season, despite his team so often being on the losing end. Ian Prior will bring much-needed experience to the scrum-half position. The Force need a cool head if they want to build up the phases and he will certainly provide that. He has made 74 Super Rugby appearances for the Reds, Brumbies and Force. But this is only his first start of this season.
Team news: For the Force, Ross Haylett-Petty moves from blindside flanker back into the second row and will partner with young Scottish lock, Lewis Carmichael, who has joined the club as injury cover. Matt Philip (foot) and Richie Arnold (calf) will both miss the game through injury. Local product Richard Hardwick comes back into the starting side at number eight with club captain Ben McCalman ruled out with shoulder soreness. In the halves, experienced scrum-half Ian Prior will make his first start of the season replacing Michael Ruru (ankle), while exciting young playmaker Luke Burton has been rewarded with his first start of the season, in the number 10 jersey. Wallaby Luke Morahan returns to the fold on the left wing while Curtis Rona is back in the starting XV on the right wing replacing Chance Peni (groin). In the reserves, Francois van Wyk will make his first appearance of the 2017 season and Brynard Stander returns from a shoulder injury. 21-year-old scrum-half Mitch Short who also signed as injury cover earlier in the year is in line to make his Super Rugby debut.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs make just one change to the front row with Siegfried Fisi’ihoi being promoted from the reserves to start at loosehead prop. Dominic Bird rekindles his partnership with Brodie Retallick in the second row, while Liam Messam will start this week at blindside flanker. There’s just one change in the backs with Shaun Stevenson moving from the bench to start on the right wing. Of note in the reserves is the inclusion of former New Zealand U20 representative Aidan Ross. The 21-year old Bay of Plenty prop is in line to make his Super Rugby debut off the bench.
Form: The Force suffered a 19-13 defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney in their opener but bounced back with a 26-19 victory over the Reds in Round 2. After that, there were away losses against the Brumbies, Crusaders and Blues. They followed this up with a win over the Kings in a 46-41 thriller, while last week they had a bye.
The Chiefs notched up impressive victories, winning 24-15 against the Highlanders, 41-26 against the Blues, 26-18 against the Hurricanes, 27-14 against the Rebels and 28-12 against the Bulls before their five-game winning streak was ended in a 36-24 defeat to the Stormers two weeks ago on Saturday. However, last weekend, they bounced back from this with a come-from-behind 41-27 victory over the Cheetahs.
Prediction: It’s hard not to see a repeat of last year’s carnage. Chiefs by 30.
2016: Chiefs won 53-10 in Hamilton
2015: Chiefs won 35-27 in Hamilton
2014: Force won 18-15 in Perth
2013: Chiefs won 22-21 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 20-12 in Perth
2010: Chiefs won 37-19 in Perth
2009: Chiefs won 31-13 in Hamilton
2008: Force won 22-21 in Perth
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Curtis Rona, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Luke Burton, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Isi Naisarani, 5 Ross Haylett-Petty, 4 Lewis Carmichael, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ben Daley
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois Van Wyk, 18 Pek Cowan, 19 Onehunga Havilli, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Alex Newsome
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam , 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Toni Pulu
Date: Saturday 22 April 2017
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-Off: 17:45 local (11:45 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Will Houston (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damian Mitchelmore (Australia)