Preview: Force v Hurricanes

Date published: February 26 2015

The Hurricanes are aiming to make it three consecutive wins on the road as they visit the Western Force in Perth on Saturday.

The men from Wellington were handed the toughest early-season draw of anyone in the competition but back-to-back victories on South Africa's Highveld – against the Lions and Bulls – have left them perched at the top of the standings.

And considering their record against the Force, you'd back the Canes to continue their brilliant start to the season.

Indeed, the Hurricanes have won the last six matches between these teams. With a backline packed with firepower, a powerful set piece and the most effective breakdown operators in the tournament, the visitors have all the weapons needed to secure the result.

The Canes have won the most turnovers so far this year (24), as well as the most scrums (22). By contrast, the Force’s lineout (69 percent) and scrum (59 percent) success rates are the lowest in the competition after two rounds.

All that said, the Force are at home for the first time this season and the Hurricanes had a healthy dose of luck in both their opening wins.

A six-day turn-around from their game in Pretoria and a long trip across the Indian Ocean will make the task a tough one for the visitors, who are likely to face a Force team looking to keep it amongst the forwards as much as possible.

If they pull it off, it'll be the first time the Hurricanes have won three consecutive away games since June 2012. They have their bye after this match, so another positive performance will put them in good stead ahead of their first home encounter against the Blues in Palmerston North on March 13.

The last time these team met: These teams did not clash in 2014. The Hurricanes comfortably won 22-16 the last time they met, in Wellington back in 2013, outscoring their visitors three tries to one. The Force scored their try late on to save a losing bonus point.

Players to watch:  Dynamic back-rower Brynard Stander has also been given his first start for 2015, and will start at openside flanker in place of the injured pairing of Matt Hodgson (hamstring) and Chris Alcock (ankle). He has an important role in competing with the likes of Victor Vito and Ardie Savea  who both started on the bench against the Bulls so they'll be fresh. Also keep an eye on Steve Mafi, who made an impact off the bench against the Reds.

Team news: Wallaby prop Pek Cowan returns to the Force starting XV having been cleared from a knock sustained against the Waratahs. Lock Steve Mafi gets his first start while Zack Holmes shifts from full-back to fly-half.

The Canes have rested Conrad Smith, so Dane Coles takes over the captaincy. Coach Chris Boyd is rotating players, meaning Blade Thompson partners James Broadhurst at lock and Ardie Savea rejoins the back-row. Victor Vito, Chris Smiley and James Marshall all make their first starts of the season with Manawatu full-bak Nehe Milner-Skudder coming off the bench.

Form: The Western Force are coming off a lacklustre 18-6 loss to the Reds last week. However, they disposed defending champions, the Waratahs, 25-13 in Sydney a week earlier. The Hurricanes beat the Lions 22-8 in Round 1 and edged the Bulls 17-13 last week. The Hurricanes have won seven of the eight meetings between the sides by an average score of 30-18.

Predictions: In two of their last five wins over the Force, the Hurricanes have come from behind at half-time to triumph. A similar scenario is likely with TJ Perenara coming off the bench to lift the pace in the final quarter. Hurricanes by seven points.

Previous results:
2013: Hurricanes won 22-16 in Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 46-19 in Perth
2011: Hurricanes won 34-28 in Palmerston North
2010: Hurricanes won 47-22 in Wellington
2009: Hurricanes won 28-27 in Perth

The teams:

Western Force: 15 Luke Burton, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Solomoni Jnr Rasolea, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Brynard Stander, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Steve Mafi, 4 Sam Wykes (c), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan
Replacements:  16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Rory Walton, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Sias Ebersohn, 23 Mitchell Scott tbc

Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Brad Shields, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles ( c), 1 Reggie Goodes
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Nehe Milner-Skudder.

Date: Friday, February 27
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off:  19:00 local (11:00 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO:  George Ayoub (Australia)