Preview – Rebels Are Favourites Against Winless Western Force

The Force host the Rebels today in its Super Rugby AU round 5 clash at Leichhardt Oval in NSW @ 11:05 SA time. The Force are currently at the bottom of the log and are still looking for their first win after three games in the Super Rugby AU competition. The Force lost 0-24 against the Brumbies last week. The Rebels come off an impressive win over the Waratahs (29-10) last weekend and are currently third on the Super Rugby AU competition log after one win from three games.

The Force will welcome back regular skipper Ian Prior and employ an exciting new centre combination in Richard Kahui and Kyle Godwin. Head coach Tim Sampson has made a total of eight changes and a positional switch to his matchday squad.

Kahui – played his first Force game last week and showed his class coming off the bench against the Brumbies, starts at the inside centre with Henry Taefu shifting to the bench. The former All Black will bring calm and composure to the attack as the Force look to create more line breaks against the Rebels.

Wallaby Godwin, who has been introduced from the bench over the past three weeks, has shown great form and is promoted to the starting XV at outside centre. His hard-running game, as well as his ability to create space and opportunity for his wings, will be vital to the Force’s cause on Friday. Godwin replaces the in-form Marcel Brache who shifts to the left wing with the regular number 11 Brad Lacey moving to the bench.

In another change among the backs, scrumhalf and captain Ian Prior returns to lead the team after missing the Brumbies match through injury. He replaces Nick Frisby – who is included amongst the reserves. Prior has been a stalwart for the Force in recent seasons and his kicking game will be important to give his team forward momentum.

In a solitary change in the forward pack, Chris Heiberg has been promoted to start at loosehead prop after some consistent performances coming off the bench in recent weeks. He replaces Angus Wagner who is nursing a hamstring injury who is replaced by South African Cabous Eloff on the bench. Veteran Pek Cowan makes his long-awaited Western Force return on the bench.

Amongst the reserves, second-rower Johan Bardoul returns to the squad after missing the matches against the Brumbies and the Reds. He replaces Ollie Atkins who is being rested.

Western Force: 1. Chris Heiberg, 2. Feleti Kaitu'u, 3. Kieran Longbottom, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Fergus Lee-Warner, 6. Henry Stowers, 7. Tevin Ferris, 8. Brynard Stander, 9. Ian Prior, 10. Jono Lance, 11. Marcel Brache, 12. Richard Kahui, 13. Kyle Godwin, 14. Byron Ralston, 15. Jack McGregor. 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.

The Rebels included Isi Naisarani Wallaby number 8 in one of several changes Coach Dave Wessels announced. 

Isi Naisarani is set to earn his 50th Super Rugby cap against the Western Force this Friday night after overcoming a hamstring injury that saw him sidelined for twelve weeks. 

“Every training session this week he’s (Naisarani) played like a World Cup Final, so he’s absolutely raring to go and he’s going to be firing on all cylinders," stated Wessels. “We’re very excited to have him back.”

Former Bristol Bears flyer Tom Pincus will make his Super Rugby debut on the right-wing after captain Dane Haylett-Petty was ruled out through injury.

“He’s (Pincus) a good guy and has really fitted into the squad well," said Wessels.

“He’s got a natural eye for the game, a good kicking game and very strong in the air – that’s probably his strongest point.“

He fits into the team pretty seamlessly because he’s been training with us well before COVID, so he’s waited patiently for his opportunity, so I’m sure he’ll grab it." 

Pincus' selection continues Coach Wessels trend of blooding debutants in the Super Rugby AU competition.  

“One of the things we’re proud of is that we have blooded so many different players during this comp and I think for whatever reason that hasn’t been talked about much.

“If you think of the players who’ve either debuted or had starting debuts – I mean Cameron Orr has had a starting debut this comp, Pone has had a starting debut and Jordy (Uelese) would’ve started only a handful of games at hooker and I thought played really well against the Waratahs.

“Obviously, Trevor Hosea had a starting debut; Michael Stolberg has had a starting debut; Esei has had starting debut; Josh Kemeny has had a starting debut; Efi (Maafu) has had a debut; Tommy Pincus has had a debut and I think it’s a real credit to all those guys.

Pincus will have the calming influence of Reece Hodge in the backfield with the Wallaby Superboot hoping to nail down the 15 jersey with regular skipper Dane Haylett-Petty looking at a 4-6 week stint on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Elsewhere, Esei Haangana gets his chance to impress in the starting lock position, forcing out Wallaby Matt Philip.

“We’re very proud of Esei Haangana in the second row who’ll be making his (starting) debut.

“Esei came on a played well and we’re just trying to get the right time to blood young players and give them the exposures that they need, so that’s part of the thinking there with Esei.”

Brad Wilkin looks set to make his long-awaited return to Super Rugby, named on the bench after recovering from another ACL injury.

“He’s gone through a hell of a journey to get back from his second ACL and just the way he’s gone about his rehab is a real credit.

“The whole squad is just really pleased to see him back because of the person he is but also the work he’s done to achieve that, so I’m looking forward to seeing him come on off the bench.

“Everybody who sees Brad play knows he has the potential to be something really special and we saw that when he was playing for us in those early couple of rounds, he was included in the player of, national interest group on the back of those performances.

“He’s a dynamic athlete and he’s tough, so he’s everything you want in a flanker.”

“He’s a dynamic athlete and he’s tough, so he’s everything you want in a flanker.”

Rebels: 1. Cameron Orr, 2. Jordan Uelese, 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Esei Ha'angana, 5. Trevor Hosea, 6. Michael Wells, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Isi Naisarani, 9. Ryan Louwrens, 10. Matt To'omua, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Billy Meakes, 13. Andrew Kellaway, 14. Tom Pincus, 15. Reece Hodge, Replacements: 16. Efi Ma'afu, 17. Cabous Elouff, 18. Pone Fa'amausili, 19. Matt Philip, 20. Rob Leota, 21. Brad Wilkin, 22. Frank Lomani, 23. Andrew Deegan.

Opta Facts 

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 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.