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Preview: Western Force v Waratahs

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This year’s Super Rugby campaign has not been a happy one for Australian teams, and the Waratahs, who are often their nation’s top side, will be looking forward to ending the season in Perth against the Western Force.

The Force’s participation in the competition next year is still up in the air with the Australian Rugby Union undecided on which team between the Perth outfit and the Melbourne Rebels to cull.

With the Brumbies set to be Australia’s only representatives in the play-offs, the last weekend of action should be used by the players to put their hands up for Wallabies selection.

Neither team has impressed on the field, and fans should not expect Saturday’s clash to be a classic. Just how the Waratahs, with game breakers in their side such as Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Rob Horne, Michael Hooper and Sekope Kepu have been so woeful, is something that baffles the mind.

But, it should not come as a surprise as the game Down Under has been in a downward spiral over the last two years. It was just three years ago that the Waratahs defeated the Crusaders by one point to claim the title. Now, they’re fighting to avoid being the second worse team in Australia.

Likewise, the Force haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory, but have managed to beat non Australians teams like the Jaguares and Kings, and even though they have absolutely nothing but pride to play for, they will be keen to secure second place in the Australian conference.

The last time the teams met: The Waratahs managed a narrow six point victory on the opening weekend of the competition, although it’s been downhill since. They were without pivot Foley for large parts of the early stages, although there hasn’t been much improvement since he’s returned into the side. The game was a complete mess as it was filled with handling errors from both sides, although that could be blamed on the rain earlier in the day.

Players to watch:

For Western Force: Skipper Matt Hodgson will make his 140th and final appearance for the franchise before retiring, and his team will be keen to send him off in style. Former Springbok and Stormers fly-half Peter Grant will also be a player to keep an eye on, although at 32, he will need to be at the top of his game against incumbent Wallabies 10 Foley.

For Waratahs: On his best day, ‘Tahs outside back Israel Folau is one of the most dangerous players in world rugby. And, despite their struggles all season, the Wallabies flier has still managed to chip in with nine tries – the most by an Australian. Scrum-half Nick Phipps should provide some much needed impetus when he comes off the bench later on in the game.

Team news: Force coach Dave Wessels has opted to bring in Tetera Faulkner into the starting XV at tighthead prop, while Marcel Brache will start on the wing having returned from international duties with the USA Eagles. According to Wessels, it will all be about the retiring Hodgson. “Saturday’s game will be special for both ‘Hodgo’ and the club. He’s given everything to the cause over a long career and we hope the Sea of Blue will help us give him the send-off he deserves,” he said.

‘Tahs scrum-half Phipps makes his return after recovering from ankle injury, although he will not be among the starters. Taqele Naiyaravoro, who started last weekend’s defeat at home against the Jaguares on the bench on the wing with Bryce Hegarty not recovering in time after his thigh strain.

Form: The Force beat the Rebels in their game last week, and carry momentum into the final weekend of the competition. Playing in front of their home fans, who should be out in their numbers to prove to the Australian Rugby Union that they belong, will give them a sight edge against a Waratahs side that hasn’t managed to pick up a win since running the Rebels off their feet in May for their fourth and final win.

Prediction: It’s not going to be pretty, and it’s going to be a low scoring game, but the home side should win. Force by 3.

Previous results:

2017: Waratahs won 19-13 in Sydney
2016: Waratahs won 49-13 in Perth
2015: Force won 18-11 in Perth
2015: Force 25 Force won 25-13 in Sydney
2014: Force won 28-16 in Perth
2014: Waratahs won 43-21 in Sydney

The teams:

Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Michael Ruru, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Pek Cowan
Replacements: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Jono Lance, 23 James Verity-Amm

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Cam Clark, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Dean Mumm, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 David Lolohea, 18 Angus Taavao, 19 David Mcduling, 20 Ryan Mccauley, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Mack Mason, 23 Andrew Kellaway

Date: Saturday, July 15
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 17.45 (09.45 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Will Houston (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)

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