Lock Sam Wykes will captain the Western Force when the side opens its 2015 campaign against the Waratahs in Sydney on Sunday.
The 26-year-old will become the ninth player to lead the Force in Super Rugby, a responsibility he takes on in the absence of Matt Hodgson, who will be sidelined until after the Week Eight bye with a hamstring injury.
Wykes, who will team up with Adam Coleman in the second row, will pack down behind the club’s all-Wallaby front row of Pek Cowan, Nathan Charles and Tetera Faulkner, with Cowan in line to equal Nathan Sharpe’s 92 matches for the Western Force – second only to Hodgson, who has played 113 matches for the club.
Chris Alcock, whose 2014 season was limited to just three matches due to a shoulder injury, makes his return to the starting XV to line up alongside Ben McCalman and Angus Cottrell in the back row.
In the backline, Kyle Godwin will make his first start in the ‘13’ jersey in Super Rugby having previously run on at inside centre in 24 of his 27 matches. He will team up with Junior Rasolea in the centres – the ninth time the pair have started in the midfield together at this level.
In the halves, Alby Mathewson and Sias Ebersohn will renew their partnership, while Marcel Brache, Luke Morahan and Dane Haylett-Petty will form the Western Australian back three.
On the bench, lock/flanker Steve Mafi is in line for his first appearance in Super Rugby after joining the Western Force from English club, the Leicester Tigers.
Western Force head coach Michael Foley said his side is looking forward to kicking off its 2015 season this weekend.
“Playing the champions at their home is a good test for us first up,” he explained.
“Having pushed each other day after day throughout the pre-season, the boys are keen to get the season started.
“Sam will lead the team and while Pek, Ben and Alby will support him, every player understands the significance of performing their roles for each other.”
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes (c), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Luke Burton.
Date: Sunday, February 15
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kickoff: 16:05 local (05:05 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant referees: Damien Mitchelmore, Michael Hogan
TMO: Ian Smith