Preview: Western Force v Highlanders

Date published: May 24 2013

The Force host the Highlanders in a clash which could ultimately decide the destiny of the wooden spoon in this year's competition.

The Western Force host the Highlanders in a clash which could ultimately decide the destiny of the wooden spoon in this year's competition.

Although there's little to play for, both sides will go all out for victory as the losers will occupy the bottom spot in the standings.

The Highlanders are currently in that position with only 16 points gathered from 11 matches played so far this season, but the Western Force are just one place above them on 19 points from 13 games.

Last weekend, the Western Force suffered a 23-13 defeat to the Sharks and the Highlanders were on the end of a 35-18 hammering from the Bulls.

The Highlanders' poor performances has been one of the biggest mysteries of this season's competition.

They have several top class players in their ranks but have disappointed throughout.

All Blacks Ben Smith, Hosea Gear, Ma'a Nonu, Colin Slade and Aaron Smith are yet to show what they can do as a unit.

Up front, fellow internationals like captain Andrew Hore, Brad Thorn, Mose Tuiali'i and Tony Woodcock have toiled manfully but the Dunedin-based franchise are yet to produce the goods on a consistent basis and have just one win – against the Sharks in Round 12 – under their belts this season.

Force scrum-half Alby Mathewson expects the Highlanders to be focussed more on their psychological preparation after a draining physical battle against the Bulls.

“A tough game in Pretoria against the Bulls physically will take a toll on them,” he told the Courier Mail.

“And with a short turnaround (six days), they will probably engage light training this week to take care of the mental side of things. They will be looking to come out firing.

“They are a forward-orientated team, so we can expect another tough battle up front, and they have some exciting backs as well, so the game doesn't get any easier.”

Mathewson is one of the the Force's dangermen. He has shown throughout the season that he has the ability to provide attacking impetus to his outside backs from the base of the scrum and combines well with his forwards, especially the back-rowers.

Other players to keep an eye on is captain Matt Hodgson, who has done well since taking over the reins from David Pocock, and Kyle Godwin who has impressed and even been mentioned in some circles as a future Wallaby.

The Force's biggest problem is their inability to deliver an 80 minute display. They have been competitive in most of their matches this season and when they have done that for an entire game they've done well.

Prior to that defeat to the Sharks, they came to within a point of upsetting the Chiefs away from home and they were unlucky to draw with the Reds in Round 12.

They also claimed a deserved victory over the Reds in Brisbane in Round five and against the Crusaders in Perth in Round nine.

If they want to be successful this weekend they will have to replicate those type of performances.

Prediction: With this being two of the tournament's basement dwellers, don't expect this match to be a classic. It will be a close affair but the Force will sneak in by three points!

The teams:

Western Force: tbc

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Jason Emery, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (c), 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Joe Wheeler, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Tino Nemani/Trent Renata.

Date: Saturday, May 25
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 17.40 (09.40 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)