The Western Force host the Waratahs in what promises to be a tough and uncompromising Australian derby in Perth on Sunday.
The home side have little at stake – as they are currently languishing in 13th position in the standings – but will still be motivated to put one over their more-fancied neighbours who are still chasing a play-off spot.
Force coach Michael Foley was widely criticised for fielding a weakened team in his side’s 69-17 loss to the British and Irish Lions on Wednesday but he said he was not prioritising the Waratahs over the Lions.
He admitted though that he believes better scheduling is needed for the Lions and other nations in future tours, and queried why the Force couldn’t have played against the Lions last weekend instead of the Barbarians, when his side had a bye.
“The Hong Kong game would have been ideal for us,” he told the Courier Mail. “We see the opportunity to play the Lions as a great honour,” Foley said. “Scheduling is pretty important. Everybody wants to see the best players on the field all the time.
“I think the scheduling has got to support that. If you push for quantity and compromise on quality, players are upset, coaches are upset and fans are upset. I think the scheduling could be a lot simpler.”
The Waratahs, who will be led by flanker Pat McCutcheon for the first time are currently in eighth spot on the table and a victory is a must if they want to make the knock-out stages.
The absence of the team’s 10 Wallabies and six injured players has created opportunities for five up-and-coming club players to make their Super Rugby debuts.
The Waratahs have been particularly hard hit with Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu, Rob Horne, Berrick Barnes, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau all unavailable due to international commitments.
This comes on top of a mounting injury toll: Tatafu Polota Nau (broken arm), Sitaleki Timani (broken thumb) and Lachie Turner (broken leg) all out for a prolonged spell.
Prediction: After all the drama from earlier this week, the Force will be under pressure to pull this one off. With the Waratahs losing several key players to the Wallabies the hosts are a good bet to do just that. Western Force to win by seven points!
Western Force:15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Junior Rasolea, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Rory Walton, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan (c). Reserves 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Salesi Ma’afu, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Ed Stubbs, 22 Sam Norton-Knight.
Waratahs: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Tom Kingston, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Pat McCutcheon, 6 Lopeti Timani 5 Ollie Atkins, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Jeremy Tilse.
Replacements from: 16 Sam Talakai, 17 Luke Holmes, 18 Damien Fitzpatrick, 19 Richard Aho, 20 Adam Coleman, 21 AJ Gilbert, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Grayson Hart, 24 Terrence Hepetema, 25 Ben Volavola.
Date: Sunday, June 9
Kick-off: 14:05 (06:05 GMT)
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth