The Force will do everything in their power to avoid a seventh straight loss on Friday when they host the Bulls in Perth.
2016’s only moment of joy came when the Force comfortably defeated the Reds 22-6 in Brisbane, but instead of proving to be the start of something positive that victory just sticks out like a sore thumb.
Defeats to the Brumbies, Hurricanes, Chiefs, Highlanders, Crusaders and Waratahs have followed and only one of those was close, that 19-20 loss to the Crusaders in Perth.
On paper that run of fixtures has proved to be as tough as expected and it leaves the Force languishing near the bottom of the overall table, with just two points more than the Kings.
It’s not hard to see were the problems are – in that run of defeats the Force conceded over 40 points on three occasions, including 49 last week against the Waratahs.
They have also scored the fewest tries in the competition with nine. That’s a miserly average of 1.125 per game, which is obviously unacceptable. The Force’s hard work with their ball carrying isn’t being rewarded with line breaks and defenders beaten.
One lifeline for the Force however is their goalkicking, with the most accurate percentage of any team in the competition on 94, more than 20 percent more accurate than the Bulls (73 percent).
By contrast the Bulls are undefeated through their last six matches – five wins and a draw – and a large factor in that run of success has been their lineout, the second-best in the competition at a 91.8 success percentage rate.
The Bulls have won their last four matches in a row, and a fifth straight win would be their longest streak since a run of nine wins saw them reach the 2013 post-season.
The late withdrawal of lock Jason Jenkins is a setback given his youthful combination with RG Snyman has stood out so far this season and Nollis Marais and the rest of the Bulls coaching staff will hope to have Jenkins back in the fold for their following matches on tour against the Brumbies and Waratahs.
Friday marks the start of a three-game stretch that will make or break the Bulls’ play-off ambitions, but led as ever by the impeccable Adriaan Strauss in Perth they will fancy their chances.
2015: Bulls won 25-24 in Pretoria
2014: Force won 14-9 in Perth
2013: Bulls won 36-26 in Pretoria
2011: Force won 26-21 in Perth
2010: Bulls won 28-15 in Perth
2009: Bulls won 32-29 in Pretoria
2008: Force won 15-14 in Perth
2007: Force won 30-27 in Pretoria
Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ammon Matuauto, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Ian Prior, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Harry Scoble, 1 Francois van Wyk
Replacements: 16 Chris Heiberg, 17 Anaru Rangi, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Kyle Godwin, 23 Semisi Masirewa
Bulls: 15 SP Marais, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel
Date: Friday, 29 April
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 19:05 (11:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffman, Damien Mitchelmore
TMO: Ian Smith