Preview: Force v Highlanders

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Friday, May 22, 2015    Getty Images

Saturday 23 May at 11.45pm
nib Stadium, Perth

Played: 8, 2006-2014 (DNP 2012)
Force wins: 6
Highlanders wins: 2

Force points: 210
Highlanders points: 177

Last match: Force 31 Highlanders 29, 15.03.14 in Dunedin

Round 15 teams:

Form: Last year the Force came close to reaching their first ever Super Rugby Finals Series, finishing eighth overall with a franchise record nine wins.

This season has not been a repeat, Michael Foley’s team has won two from 12, but their double wins have been against the Waratahs, a side that employs a running game not world’s removed from the open style that the Highlanders like to employ.

The threat is the H2H, the Highlanders defeated the Western Australians in 2006 and 2007 (the latter game 8-7), but since then the Force have won six straight against the Otago based outfit.

The Landers 2015 vintage has been strong so far, and their consistency throughout the season has allowed them to hold position within the top six.

Eight wins from 12 has them in control, and while their victory in Bloemfontein was vital, back-to-back triumphs before returning home for their final regular season home game (v Chiefs) will set up their run home nicely.

Key players: The Force roster is far beyond what their position on the table may indicate, captain Matt Hodgson is one of the better openside’s in the business, while Pek Cowan, Nathan Charles and Ben McCalman will examine any rival.

Nick Cummins wants to score more tries, but Sias Ebersohn will be the main man at first five if the hosts are to spark, while Kyle Godwin and Marcel Brache will be keen to lift their game against a strong Highlanders back division.

The Highlanders forwards might not be littered with international capped players, but they have been handy enough to overwork most, but the men out in the rear have been the defining point.

Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Aaron Smith – front line All Blacks – are being supported by the likes of Pat Osborne, Lima Sopoaga and Waisake Naholo, who are all threatening for international spots.

Squad update: Dane Haylett-Petty will return to the Western Force's starting XV, resuming his regular place in the '15' jersey after being a late omission in the Force's last match against the NSW Waratahs with a groin injury.

Outside back Marcel Brache, who started on the wing against the Waratahs, will start at outside centre against the New Zealanders, linking with Kyle Godwin in the midfield, who will shift to the '12' jersey in place of the injured Solomoni Jnr Rasolea (ankle).

On the bench, lock Sam Wykes is set to make his return from a foot injury that has sidelined him for three matches.

Waisake Naholo and Shaun Treeby return from injury to the starting team with Naholo back on the wing and Treeby coming into the second-five position.

Utility back, Richard Buckman, moves to cover on the bench and the forward/back split returns to the standard five/three.

Elliot Dixon is unavailable for selection this week returning back to New Zealand for the birth of his first child pending.