The fighting Force, fresh off a win, return home to try to upset a Highlanders’ side who are riding on a massive winning streak.
The Highlanders will be looking to finish their road trip on a high, and welcome back a familiar face to the bench, Lima Sopaga.
Meanwhile, the Force will be bolstered by the return of Luke Morahan as they look to cause another upset.
The fighting Force defeated Los Jaguares last week
The Force win against Los Jaguares in Buenos Aires was a brave effort which snagged the only overseas win by an Aussie team this season to date.
Prior to that victory, the Force last managed to scrap a win out in their Round 7 clash at nib Stadium in the high scoring encounter against the Kings.
Their form during the period of losses was, at best, mediocre. They struggled in the second half of games – a perennial issue for them – and at least once they were in a winning position.
Like other Aussie teams, the Force have had thrashings from Kiwi teams
They were able to buck this trend in Buenos Aires when they put their foot down and finished well; but they are going to need an 80-minute performance this weekend to stand any chance against a rampaging Highlanders’ outfit.
The Force leaked 77 points in the three losses before their trip to Argentina and will be bolstered by not conceding a try against the Jaguares. They need to carry through that defensive tenacity against The Clan, who have been piling on the points of late.
The Highlanders never gave up against the Cheetahs
There’s hot and there is Highlanders’ HOT – they’re finding ways to win no matter the situation. This team has not tasted defeat since their Round 4 flogging by the Hurricanes, which seemed to awaken a passion and persistence for positive rugby that makes them one of the best teams to watch in season 2017.
In the last round, the Highlanders toughed out a win against the Bulls though limited to just 35% of possession—and not many will soon forget their come-from-behind win against the Cheetahs a few weeks ago.
They know how to score points whether they are in front on the scoreboard, or not. In their current seven-game win streak they have averaged 36 points per match.
Force defence last week lifted their spirits
Why should I bother?
The Australian Conference has been blown wide open with teams winning out of turn and others finding ways to lose. The Force know they are in with a sniff of the finals, and their upset victory against the Jaguares will have lifted their spirits. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of enthusiasm from the West Coast boys.
Despite some cracking victories and riding their streak, the Highlanders sit further down the ladder than they would like, due to the strength of the New Zealand Conference. They know they can’t afford to drop any games, nor even any bonus points, if they are to work themselves up the ladder as the the finals approach.
Matt Faddes – a try scoring machine this year
Key match ups
Luke Morahan v Matt Faddes
With a couple of stars on the bench, look for the Highlanders to channel even more attack through the starting Matt Faddes, who is a try scoring machine this season. He has crossed the line for a meat pie in their last four matches and is covering for the injured Ben Smith quite adequately thank you.
However the Force will be thrilled to have Luke Morahan back at fullback, as he will threaten with counter-attack more than Peter Grant did.
Peter Grant v Marty Banks
Banks has filled in well for the injured Sopoaga and has been rewarded by keeping his spot in the starting side this week. He will be kept well in check though by former Springbok Peter Grant, who will start at flyhalf for the first time this season.
Both these players control the game well and Grant’s boot will be key to the Force controlling field position. It will be interesting to see if Grant is able to force some defensive pressure onto Banks and create a few errors, before the more unpredictable Sopoaga is brought into the game and creates a few headaches.
Highlanders attack with all players all the time
There is a strong part of me that wants to back the Force here: they played well last week and are welcoming back some quality players. Coupled with the Highlanders being on the end of their road trip, it has the makings of an upset.
I’m predicting the first half to be an up-tempo game and can see the Force putting on some quick points—but I can’t pick the upset, and am sticking with the Highlanders.
I still suspect the ability of the Westerners to contain The Clan with their potent attack and their fire power on the bench.
Highlanders by 14
Luke Morahan – back from injury
1. Pek Cowan
2. Tatafu Polota-Nau
3. Jermaine Ainsley
4. Richie Arnold
5. Adam Coleman
6. Ross Haylett-Petty
7. Brynard Stander
8. Richard Hardwick
9. Ian Prior
10. Peter Grant
11. Alex Newsome
12. Bill Meakes (c)
13. Curtis Rona
14. Semise Masirewa
15. Luke Morahan
16. Anaru Rangi
17. Francois van Wyk
18. Tetera Faulkner
19. Matt Philip
20. Lewis Carmichael
21. Isireli Naisarani
22. Michael Ruru
23. James Verity-Amm
1. Daniel Lienert-Brown
2. Liam Coltman
3. Siate Tokolahi
4. Alex Ainley
5. Tom Franklin
6. Garth Evans
7. Dillon Hunt
8. Elliott Dixon (c)
9. Kayne Hammington
10. Marty Banks
11. Tevita Li
12. Richard Buckman
13. Malakai Fekitoa
14. Patrick Osborne
15. Matt Faddes
16. Ash Dixon
17. Aki Seiulu
18. Guy Millar
19. Joe Wheeler
20. Jackson Hemopo
21. Aaron Smith
22. Lima Sopoaga
23. Rob Thompson
Date: Saturday, 20 May 2017
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 5:45 pm AWST, 7:45 pm AEST
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Damon Murphy (Aus), Ed Martin (Aus)
TMO: Ian Smith (RSA)