Western Force captain Ben McCalman has completed a tough session using his damaged thumb and looks set to lead the side for the first time this season against Southern Kings at nib Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Wallabies No.8 has been sidelined since having surgery on his left thumb that was dislocated at training in January.
It has been a frustrating time for McCalman, who was back to full fitness after twice fracturing his right shoulder playing for the Wallabies last year. “I’ve been training by myself for a long time and it will be great to be out there Sunday afternoon,” McCalman said. “It’s frustrating any time to be injured but especially on the back of the shoulder injuries last year.”
Coach Dave Wessels will have a tough decision to make with the return of McCalman and may start him from the bench given his lack of game time. Richard Hardwick has started three games at the back of the scrum and Isi Naisarani has started one and come from the bench once. Brynard Stander also started a game at No.8 but is recovering from a neck injury. McCalman has been impressed with both Hardwick in just his second season and debutant Naisarani.
“Richard Hardwick has had a great season, big Isi as well. The flying Fijian has really stepped up,” he said. The Force and Kings have won only one game each this year. The Force are at home for just the second time in six matches and McCalman said it was a match earmarked for a win.
“You don’t often talk about games you want to win or feel you have to win, but I feel this is a game we can target, mainly because it’s at home,” he said.
“The Kings are a very physical side. There are a lot of forced turnovers when they play. “They haven’t had the results but they force teams to play a style of rugby or the game plan they don’t want to play.” Both teams are facing the axe if SANZAAR moves to a new Super Rugby format, but McCalman said players had hope. “We see our future as being here next year and that’s all we focus on,” he said.
Kings head coach Deon Davids has made three changes to his side that will take on the Force in their sixth match of the season on Sunday.
Following the hamstring injury to experienced centre Waylon Murray, who arrived back in Port Elizabeth on Thursday, Davids was forced to make a change to his midfield pairing that took on the Lions in the Southern Kings’ last Super Rugby match a fortnight ago.
Luzuko Vulindlu, who was on the bench in the match against the Lions, replaces Murray in the 12 jersey as he partners up with Berton Klaasen.
After recovering from a thigh injury that ruled him out of the Southern Kings’ previous fixture, wing Makazole Mapimpi has been included in the starting XV, taking the place of Alshaun Bock at right wing.
The only change in the forwards pack sees Michael Willemse making a return to the starting XV in a rotational selection which sees Kurt Haupt, the starting hooker against the Lions, not included in the matchday 23 squad this week.
The match will be marked by a special milestone for Southern Kings hooker, Martin Bezuidenhout, who will be making his 50th Super Rugby appearance should he make his way onto the field from the bench.
Western Force : TBA
Kings: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje (c), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Andisa Ntsila, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Justin Forwood, 19 Mzwanele Zito, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 23 Masixole Banda/Wandile Mjekevu
Date: Sunday, April 9
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 14:05 local (06:05 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)