Preview: Western Force v Highlanders

Date published: May 22 2015

The Western Force will be keen to continue with their recent dominance over the Highlanders when they host them in Perth on Saturday.

The visitors have been one of the form sides in this season's competition but they've only beaten the Force on two occasions in eight previous encounters.

The Force have been victorious in the last six matchs between these sides with the Highlanders' last victory in Perth registered way back in 2007.

The Highlanders have also lost 14 of their last 15 away games against Australian opposition. Such statisitics make for depressing reading for the visitors who have been one of the form teams in the competition this year.

The Highlanders' expansive playing style has reaped the rewards as they have scored the third most tries (38) this season just three fewer than the Hurricanes and Crusaders who are the pacesetters in that category.

Jamie Joseph's side have also impressed in the line-outs in the tournament where they are second only to the Brumbies with an impressive 90.2% success rate in that facet of play.

They head into this game brimming with confidence after their 45-24 thrashing of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week.

The Force, however, are also on a high and will be no pushovers as they beat the Waratahs in their previous match on May 9.

That 18-11 triumph secured them only their second victory of the season but it also means they got the better of the defending champions for the second time having already beaten them in their season opener.

The Force are, however, at the bottom of the table and judging from previous matches and the season's statistics they will battle to beat their visitors especially on attack.

Michael Foley's charges have scored the third fewest tries (24) and made the fewest clean breaks (61) in the competition. They are also the team with the second worst tackle success rate (82.6%) and the third worst scrummaging success (84%).

The last time these teams met: The Force secured a 31-29 victory when these sides met in Dunedin last year. The visitors outscored the Highlanders by four tries to three with Nathan Charles, Sias Ebersohn, Ben McCalman and Junior Rasolea all dotting down. Ebersohn also kicked four conversions and a penalty which gave him a 16-point haul. For the Highlanders, Shaun Treeby, Malakai Fekitoa and Hayden Parker crossed the whitewash and Lima Sopoaga slotted four penaltiess and a conversion.

Players to watch: Western Force skipper Matt Hodgson is one of the leading openside flankers in the competition and his battle with Highlanders tearaway John Hardie for the loose ball should have a huge bearing on this game's outcome. Hodgson was crocked with a hamstring injury for most of the season and he's proved, since his return, that his allround skills and leadership were greatly missed during his spell on the sidelines.

Highlanders speedster Waisake Naholo's try-scoring form has played a big part in elevating the Highlanders to fifth spot on the overall table. Naholo combines searing pace with brute strength which makes him a handful for defenders and is currently the leading try-scorer in the competition with eight tries.

Team news: Full-back Dane Haylett-Petty will return to the Western Force's starting XV after being a late omission in the Force's last match against the Waratahs with a groin injury. Outside back Marcel Brache, who started on the wing against the Waratahs, will start at outside centre in this clash, alongside Kyle Godwin in the midfield, who shifts to the 12 jersey in place of the injured Junior Rasolea. On the bench, lock Sam Wykes is set to make his return from a foot injury and local winger Brad Lacey is set to make his Super Rugby debut.

There are two changes to the Highlanders' starting line-up that beat the Cheetahs last week. Both Waisake Naholo and Shaun Treeby return from injury to the starting team with Naholo back on the wing and Treeby coming into the inside centre position. Utility back Richard Buckman moves to the bench while Ryan Tongia, who scored twice on debut last week, drops out of the matchday squad. Co-captain Ben Smith will become only the fourth player to rack up 100 games for the Dunedin-based franchise while loose forward John Hardie will also achieve a milestone as he runs out for his 50th Super Rugby game for the team.

Form: The Force are fresh off a bye but their victory over the Waratahs in Round 13 was their first triumph after 10 successive defeats since their previous victory over the defending champions in Round One. The Highlanders beat the Cheetahs last weekend but lost to the Lions in Johannesburg prior to that.

Prediction: Although the Force have dominated this fixture over the years, the Highlanders will end their lsing streak. Highlanders to win by four points!

Previous results:

2014: Western Force won 31-29 in Dunedin
2013: Western Force won 19-18 in Perth
2011: Western Force won 21-14 in Dunedin
2010: Western Force won 41-27 in Queenstown
2009: Western Force won 33-28 in Perth

The teams:

Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Brad Lacey.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka , 22 Richard Buckman, 23 Marty Banks.

Date: Saturday, May 23
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 19:45 local (11:45 GMT, 21:45 AEST, 23:45 NZST, 13:45 SAST)
Referee: Andrew Lees
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann; Graham Cooper
TMO: Ian Smith