Super Rugby AU - Predictions and Teams: Round Five
GRUDGE MATCH: For the fans, it’s the ultimate grudge match, but Western Force players will do their best to keep emotions in check when they take on the Melbourne Rebels at Leichhardt Oval on Friday.
Scores of Force fans are still filthy that their beloved franchise was axed from Super Rugby at the end of 2017 instead of the Rebels.
That decision was made despite billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest offering a package worth about $70 million to Rugby Australia to keep the Force in the competition.
The Force spent two years in the Global Rapid Rugby wilderness after Forrest’s deal was rejected, but they are now in Super Rugby ranks following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Perth-based franchise are 0-3 in the new Australian competition, and were handed a reality check in last week’s 0-24 loss to the Brumbies.
Veteran prop Pek Cowan, skipper Ian Prior, flyhalf Jono Lance, and Marcel Brache are among the current players who experienced the Force axing in 2017.
Former All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush said the player group wouldn’t let their emotions get the better of them.
“We’ve touched on it a little bit,” Thrush said.
“It is there and we all know the history behind all that, but we need to focus on what we need to do right, and get our mindset right.
There’s always emotion … there will be that there. But if we let that control us, we’ll probably make a fair few errors and let ourselves down.”
The Force have named their strongest squad of the season to date, with World Cup-winning All Black Richard Kahui and former Wallaby Godwin named as the new centre pairing.
“You’re after cool heads in big games and this is a big game for us,” Force coach Tim Sampson said.
“Through our backs, you go Nick Frisby, Lance, Kahui, Godwin, Brache on the wing – there’s great experience there.”
Foundation Force squad member Cowan has been named on the bench after serving his quarantine period and getting up to speed with the squad.
“He’s raring to go. He’s like a 20-year-old debutant,” Sampson said.
The Rebels have recalled Wallabies No.8 Isi Naisarani, but former Force star Dane Haylett-Petty has been ruled out for at least five weeks with a knee injury.
The Rebels have posted a win, a draw, and a loss from their three games.
This week’s predictions
Friday, July 31:
Western Force v Melbourne Rebels
(Leichhardt Oval, Sydney – Kick-off: 19.05; 09.05 GMT)
The Force earned a 31-22 win in their last Super Rugby game against the Rebels (Rd 16, 2017) and will now be looking for back-to-back wins against them in the competition for the first time.
The Force have lost their opening three games of the Super Rugby AU campaign; the last time they opened a Super Rugby season with more consecutive defeats was a six-game period in 2010.
The Rebels have lost only one of their last four Super Rugby games against fellow Australian opposition (W2, D1) and will be looking for back-to-back wins in such fixtures for the first time since March 2019.
The Force have scored two tries on possession begun after winning a turnover in Super Rugby AU, more than any other team in the competition.
Reece Hodge (Rebels) has scored three tries and a total of 37 points across his last three Super Rugby games against the Force, as well as making 35 carries, five clean breaks, and three offloads in that time.
@rugby365com: Rebels by five points
Western Force: 15 Jack McGregor, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Richard Kahui, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ian Prior (captain), 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Tevin Ferris, 6 Henry Stowers, 5 Fergus Lee-Warner, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Chris Heiberg.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Tom Sheminant, 19 Johan Bardoul, 20 Ollie Callan, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Henry Taefu, 23 Brad Lacey.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge (co-captain), 14 Tom Pincus, 13 Andrew Kellaway, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt Toomua (co-captain), 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Trevor Hosea, 4 Esei Haangana, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Cameron Orr.
Replacements: 16 Efitusi Ma’afu, 17 Cabous Eloff, 18 Pone Fa’amaluli, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Brad Wilkin, 22 Frank Lomani, 23 Andrew Deegan.
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Amy Perrett, Reuben Keane
TMO: James Leckie
Saturday, August 1
Brumbies v Reds
GIO Stadium, Canberra – Kick-off: 19.15; 09.15 GMT)
The Brumbies have won eight of their last 11 Super Rugby games against the Reds, including their last two on the bounce; in fact, they have won their last six home
games on the bounce against the Queensland team.
The Brumbies have won their last eight Super Rugby games against fellow Australian opponents, twice as many as they had won in their 13 national derbies prior (W4, L9).
The Reds have won only two of their last 19 Super Rugby games away from home (D1,L16) and will be looking for their first triumph on the road since Round 10, 2019 against the Sharks.
The Brumbies have made the most clean breaks (9.7) and beaten the most defenders (29) per game of any team in Super Rugby AU, as well as having conceded the fewest clean breaks (2.7) and missing the fewest tackles (11).
Fraser McReight (Reds) has won six turnovers thus far in Super Rugby AU, more than any other player in the competition; he is also yet to miss a tackle from 29 attempts thus far.
@rugby365com: Brumbies by 11 points
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Solomone Kata, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Bayley Kuenzle, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Will Miller, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Nick Frost, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 James Slipper, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Tom Cusack, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Issak Fines, 22 Mack Hansen, 23 Andy Muirhead.
Queensland: 15 Jock Campbell, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Hunter Paisaimi, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Scott Malolua, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Angus Blyth, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Dane Zander.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Feao Fotuaika, 18 Jack Straker, 19 Ryan Smith, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Jordan Petaia.
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Jordan Way, Reuben Keane
TMO: Ian Smith
Additional sources: AAP & SANZAAR