Only Australia could treat us to a local derby between teams the calibre of the Rebels and Force in the opening round of the tournament.
The Force started the 2015 season with the biggest upset of round one when they rolled over the then defending champion Waratahs 25-13 in Sydney. But from thereon in, things went south for the Perth-based team, who finished with only three wins and 13 defeats which handed them the wooden spoon.
The Rebels, on the other hand, finished a respectable 10th on the overall log for the first time in their short history after seven wins and nine losses.
In this particular fixture, neither of the two sides have bragging rights as they won a game apiece last year, but if pre-season form is a measure, the Force have the upper hand.
Michael Foley’s charges went undefeated in their two pre-season warm-ups and will be brimming with confidence, especially since one of those wins came with a 28-0 scoreline against the Hurricanes.
By contrast, the Rebels lost 59-7 to the Blues in their friendly before routing a makeshift Samoa outfit 85-0.
But despite the team’s struggles, Hodge, who played for the Australian Schoolboys and U20 teams, performed outstandingly in both outings while also impressing with his off-field discipline.
If the highly rated winger, who has hinted that he wants to challenge teammate Jack Debreczeni for the kicking duties, shows the same form in Perth that has Rebels coaches and supporters marvelling, the Force defence will take more strain than they bargained for.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Rebels 7, Force 3
In Perth: Rebels 4, Force 1
STATS AND FACTS
– In the 10 previous clashes between these teams the Force have won just three times, however after a 13-11 win in their last encounter they have the opportunity to record consecutive wins against the Rebels for the first time.
– That win was the Force’s last match of the 2015 season and only their third win of that campaign.
– The Rebels have won only seven of their 40 away fixtures in Super Rugby history, though six of those seven wins came against Australian opposition.
– The Rebels lost 15 lineouts last season due to scew throwing, almost double that of any other team (Hurricanes eight).
– The Force conceded only 13.1 turnovers per game on average last season, the fewest of any team in the competition, though the Rebels weren’t far behind, ranked third with 14 turnovers per game.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Guy Millar, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Chris Alcock, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Semisi Masirewa.
Rebels – 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon (c), 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Pat Leafa 17 Cruze Ah-Nau 18 Jamie Hagan 19 Steven Cummins 20 Colby Fainga’a 21 Mick Snowden 22 Jonah Placid 23 Daniel Hawkins
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)