Australian Conference strugglers the Western Force will host the Crusaders on Saturday looking for their second win of the tournament.
Australian Conference strugglers the Force will host the Crusaders on Saturday looking for their second win of the tournament.
Hurt by the loss of form lock Hugh McMeniman for two months, the Force missed out last weekend against fellow strugglers the Rebels, losing out to Jason Woodward's second try of the match in a 30-23 defeat.
It's a defeat that has created a gap between the Force and the rest of their rivals in the Australian Conference for the time being – a task not made any easier by welcoming a wounded Crusaders side to Perth this week.
The impact of losing McMeniman is substantial given that he has won more lineouts than any other Force player so far this season, performing well enough to tipped for an inclusion in the Wallaby squad before being ruled out for at least six weeks after fracturing his left shoulder.
The Crusaders arrive in Perth with a poor record – with two draws and only one victory out of four matches since the Force joined Super Rugby in 2006.
Losses have come away from home so far this season against the Blues, Hurricanes and last weekend against the Sharks, but a 19-14 victory over the Stormers in Cape Town will give the Crusaders confidence that they can pick up results away from home.
Dan Carter's hamstring rules him out of a return this week, meaning Tyler Bleyendaal will continue at fly-half, whilst Israel Dagg is back at full-back to move speedster Tom Marshall onto the wing. Corey Flynn – playing his 250th first class game – Dominic Bird and a first start for Shane Christie at openside flanker are the other changes to the starting XV.
Two key areas where the sides are miles apart in success is in defence and at the lineout.
Only the Brumbies have a worse tackle completion percentage so far in the tournament than the Force, with the Crusaders near the top. The Canterbury province also have the best lineout in Super Rugby, whilst the Force have the worst – a stat that will only be compounded further by the loss of McMeniman.
One major positive for the Force however is Alfi Mafi. Nobody so far has scored more tries in Super Rugby than Mafi with five, with the Force centre playing his way into Wallaby contention. The main attacking threat for the Force, they need him to add to his tally.
Prediction: Rattled by a long trip from Durban to Perth, the Crusaders will arrive weary but if they can repel the Force at the start, stand an excellent chance of picking up their second away victory of the season. Crusaders by 6.
Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Alfie Mafi, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Ed Stubbs, 10 Sam Norton-Knight, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Rory Walton, 19 Chris Alcock, 20 Mick Snowden, 21 Sias Ebersohn.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Shane Christie, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Telusa Veainu, 22 Zac Guildford.
Date: Saturday, April 13
Venue: NIB Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 19.45 (11.45 GMT)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)