The Western Force will be hoping to get their campaign back on track when they host the Southern Kings in Perth on Sunday.
The home side have won just once – from five matches – this season and will fancy their chances against the men from Port Elizabeth who have exactly the same record so far.
But despite their poor record, the Force have been very competitive in most of their fixtures this year and apart from their Round Two win over the Reds in Perth, they impressed in defeats to the Waratahs, Brumbies and Blues.
The one exception to that statistic, however, was against the Crusaders in Round 5 when the seven-time champions blew Dave Wessels’ charges off the park on their way to a 45-17 win.
Both these sides will be highly motivated to prove their worth after they were mentioned as teams who are amongst the favourites to be axed from the tournament if SANZAAR decide to reduce the number of teams to 15 next year.
One player who is raring to go is Force skipper Ben McCalman who is set to play his first match of the season after recovering from a thumb injury.
The Wallaby back-row believes his side can win this weekend but expects a tough challenge.
“You don’t often talk about games you want to win or feel you have to win, but I feel this is a game we can target, mainly because it’s at home,” he told the West Australian.
“The Kings are a very physical side. There are a lot of forced turnovers when they play.
“They haven’t had the results but they force teams to play a style of rugby or the game plan they don’t want to play.”
Although the Kings are South Africa’s poorest performing franchise in recent years and generally regarded as whipping boys in the tournament, they will be quietly confident as they head into this fixture as they have a good track record against Australian sides.
Though they’ve not faced an Australian team since 2013, the Kings have lost just one of their four previous meetings with teams from that country – winning two and drawing one of those fixtures.
The Kings were dealt a blow earlier in the week when former Springbok centre Waylon Murray returned to Port Elizabeth after being ruled out of the rest of their Australian tour with a hamstring injury.
The last time the teams met: The Kings claimed a 22-10 win over the Force in Port Elizabeth in their debut Super Rugby game in 2013. Sergeal Petersen was the Kings’ hero as he scored two tries and Demetri Catrakilis finished with a 12-point haul courtesy of four penalties. The Force’s points came via tries from Pek Cowan and Alfie Mafi.
Players to watch: Force captain Ben McCalman is set to make his first appearance of the season so he will be keen to hit the ground running when he comes off the bench. A strong ball carrier and also solid in defence, the Wallaby will hoping to make an impact in both those departments in this fixture.
For the visitors, one player who has played consistently well is their openside flanker Chris Cloete. The Kings have won an average of 9.8 turnovers per game so far this campaign, which is more than any other side in the competition. Cloete has been at the forefront of that onslaught as he is a real menace at the breakdown and he should be influential in that department again this weekend.
Team news: Kings head coach Deon Davids has made three changes to his side for this clash. Luzuko Vulindlu, who was on the bench in the match against the Lions, replaces the injured Waylon Murray in the 12 jersey as he partners up with Berton Klaasen in midfield. After recovering from a thigh injury that ruled him out of the Kings’ previous fixture, wing Makazole Mapimpi has been included in the starting XV, taking the place of Alshaun Bock at right wing. The only change in the forwards sees Michael Willemse making a return to the starting XV in a rotational selection which sees Kurt Haupt, the starting hooker against the Lions, not included in the matchday 23 squad this week.
Western Force have made just one change to their starting XV for the game. Scrum-half Michael Ruru is the only change to the side this week and will make his starting debut, replacing the injured Ryan Louwrens. The experience of co-captains Ben McCalman and Heath Tessmann will provide a huge boost for the team off the bench. While also among the reserves, local product Luke Burton is set to for his first match of the season after returning from injury. Also, Curtis Rona has recovered from the concussion he suffered against the Crusaders and will wear jersey 23.
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.
The Kings lost to the Jaguares (39-26) in Port Elizabeth in Round 1 but beat the Sunwolves (37-23) in Singapore in their next match. They then lost at home to the Stormers (41-10) before suffering a narrow 19-17 loss to the Sharks in Durban. Their last match was a 42-19 loss to the Lions in Port Elizabeth.
Prediction: Home ground advantage will swing things in the Force’s favour but only just as the Kings are sure to be competitve. Force by three points.
2013: Kings won 22-10 in Port Elizabeth
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Chance Peni, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ben Daley
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Richard Hardwick, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Curtis Rona
Kings: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje (c), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Andisa Ntsila, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Justin Forwood, 19 Mzwanele Zito, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 23 Masixole Banda/Wandile Mjekevu
Date: Sunday, April 9
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 14:05 local (06:05 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)