Waratahs The Favourites Against Returning Western Force

The NSW Waratahs will face a Western Force side that makes their return to Super Rugby after three years' absence at the Sydney Cricket Ground today @ 11:15 SA Time. Although the Waratahs lost in the first round of Super Rugby AU against the Reds (26-32) last weekend they must be the overwhelming favourites to beat a Western Force side who had a bye last weekend. However, the Force have won four of their last six Super Rugby games against the NSW Waratahs, including a 40-11 triumph in their last meeting in 2017.

The NSW Waratahs head coach Rob Penney has named an unchanged starting lineup. Karmichael Hunt will make his return from injury via the bench, with Joey Walton and Alex Newsome continuing their partnership in midfield. Jack Maddocks will continue at fullback after a strong performance against the Reds, again flanked by James Ramm and Mark Nawaqanitawase. 

Last weekend's debutants Will Harris, Tom Horton and Tiaan Tauakipulu all remain in the matchday squad.

NSW Waratahs: 1. Angus Bell, 2. Robbie Abel, 3. Harry Johnson-Holmes, 4. Ned Hanigan, 5. Rob Simmons, 6. Lachie Swinton, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Will Harris, 9. Mitch Short, 10. Will Harrison, 11. Mark Nawaqanitawase, 12. Joey Walton, 13. Alex Newsome, 14. James Ramm, 15. Jack Maddocks. Replacements: 16. Tom Horton, 17. Tetera Faulkner, 18. Tiaan Tauakipulu, 19. Tom Staniforth, 20. Jack Dempsey, 21. Michael McDonald, 22. Ben Donaldson/Tepai Moeroa, 23. Karmichael Hunt.

The Western Force will rely on continuity and experience. The side as announced by coach Tim Sampson includes 18 of the players who featured in the club’s 54-15 rout of the Malaysia Valke in a Global Rapid Rugby clash on March 14. 

“Consistency and continuity will be very important given it is our first Super Rugby game in a few years,” said Sampson. We have several players who have performed consistently well for us and have played at this level before. The selection has a very good balance from 1 to 23 in terms of experience.”

There are four changes to the run-on XV from the March outing with two having vast Super Rugby experience. Jono Lance makes his return in Force colours, starting at flyhalf in place of AJ Alatimu. Lance has 66 previous Super Rugby caps and two Super Rugby titles to his name after playing a key role for the Reds in 2011 and the Waratahs in 2014. He has spent the past three seasons with the Worcester Warriors in England.

“Jono has looked after himself really well, he is in good nick. Having that experience in a number 10 jersey is crucial for us, especially in our first game to make sure we start well. He will show good leadership there and provide good game management for us,” he said.

Lock Jeremy Thrush, whose Super Rugby pedigree includes more than 100 caps for the Hurricanes, is promoted to the starting line-up with Johan Bardoul moving to the bench. Thrush will add a physical edge to the Force pack.

Other changes to the starting XV include the promotion of flanker Tevin Ferris from the bench, replacing the retired Chris Alcock, and the inclusion of back Nick Jooste at inside centre in place of Henry Taefu, who moves to the bench.

Amongst the replacements, new Force signing, Wallaby prop Greg Holmes, has been included in place of Tom Sheminant. Holmes is a veteran of 144 Super Rugby caps with the Reds and comes to Perth after a two-season stint with English Premiership team, Exeter.

“Greg can make a huge impact coming off the bench. He is passing on his experience to other players as well, which is good for the team as a whole,” Sampson said.

Centre Kyle Godwin, who has returned to the West after two seasons with Irish side Connacht is bracketed with Jake Strachan, and in a final change on the bench, talented youngster Ollie Callan, who has come through the Force junior ranks, has been selected as loose-forward cover.

“We have included a few of the new signings on the bench for this first outing as we have to be very careful how we manage their workload, given they have been in quarantine for some time. There are also a number of Force youngsters who will be getting their first taste of rugby at this level, which will be a great experience for them,” Sampson said.

Western Force: 1. Angus Wagner, 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. Brad Lacey, 12. Nick Jooste, 13. Marcel Brache, 14. Byron Ralston, 15. Jack McGregor. Replacements: 16. Andrew Ready, 17. Chris Heiberg, 18. Greg Holmes, 19. Johan Bardoul, 20. Ollie Callan, 21. Jacob Abel, 22. Henry Taefu, 23. Kyle Godwin.

Opta Facts:

The Force have won four of their last six Super Rugby games against the NSW Waratahs, including a 40-11 triumph in their last meeting (Rd 17, 2017).

The NSW Waratahs have lost their last four consecutive Super Rugby games against fellow Australian opponents; a fifth consecutive defeat would mark their longest ever losing streak against their countrymen.

The Force are set to compete in their 13th Super Rugby campaign; only once in their last 12 appearances in the tournament have they opened their season with a win (def. NSW Waratahs, 25-13 in 2015).

The Force have scored the opening try of the game in five of their last six Super Rugby games against the NSW Waratahs, including a try to Alex Newsome after just 49 seconds in their most recent encounter in July 2017.

Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs) has made 10+ carries and 10+ tackles in each of his last two Super Rugby games; the last and only previous time he managed to do so in more consecutive games for the NSW Waratahs was a three-game stretch in March 2015.