Preview: Force v Highlanders

Josh Blackie allblacks.com 1582057797
This year, back at Perth, the competition new boys must rate their chances of getting off to a winning start.

VENUE & TIME: Subiaco Oval, Perth, Friday February 2, 23.05 NZT

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 1 � Western Force 0, Highlanders 1.

LAST TIME: April 8, 2006 (Dunedin) � Highlanders 25-22 Western Force.

WALKING WOUNDED: For most of the week it appeared that both teams were in reasonable shape and neither had reported serious injuries from pre-season work, although Highlanders fullbackGlen Horton will miss a couple of weeks with a rib problem. Then, late in the week, Nick Evans was scratched from the Highlanders with a knee problem and all the bad memories of 2006 came flooding back.

FORM: The Force had a reasonable pre-season, losing 12-17 to the Crusaders and getting a big win over the touring Samoa XV (comprised of home-based players) by 59-10. The Highlanders had only one pre-season match, losing 15-17 to the Reds at Gold Coast over the weekend.

WHO'S HOT: Apart from the weather and John Mitchell on referees, you mean? The Force should be better for their first season in Super 14 and will not be easy-beats, especially in Perth. The senior players � Scott Staniforth, Nathan Sharpe, Cameron Shepherd and Co � will be asked to perform to a high level again while Matt Giteau will be under pressure to prove he�s value for his monster contract. At least Mitchell shows no signs of playing him at halfback, where he was a flop n the Wallaby tour. The Highlanders will now look to Callum Bruce to spark some decent back play, while Craig Newby, recovered from his 2006 injuries, has a big role to play in the loose forwards.

WE THINK: This will not be an easy game for the Highlanders, especially as there is sure to be a huge crowd at Subiaco. The temperature is forecast to be hovering around the 37 degree mark at kickoff and, just to add spice, John Mitchell has been making a fuss about refereeing decisions his team received last year and is asking for a better deal in 2007. Tonight�s referee, Jerome Fortuin, does not always inspire confidence and this added pressure may be in the back of his mind. The Force have the ability to hold the Highlanders up front and appeal as the more dangerous backline, so we�ll go against the flow and tip the Force by a narrow margin (less than seven points).

TEAMS:

Western Force: 1 � Gareth Hardy, 2 � Brendan Cannon, 3 � Troy Takiari, 4 Rudi Vedelago, 5 � Nathan Sharpe (captain), 6 � David Pusey, 7 � Richard Brown, 8 � Scott Fava, 9 � Matt Henjak, 10 � James Hilgendorf, 11 � Cameron Shepherd, 12 � Matt Giteau, 13 � Ryan Cross, 14 � Scott Staniforth, 15 � Drew Mitchell.

Reserves: 16 � Tai McIsaac, 17 � Angus Scott, 18 � Luke Doherty, 19 � David Pocock, 20 � Chris O�Young, 21 � Junior Pelesasa, 22 � Haig Sare.


Highlanders: 1 � Chris King, 2 � Jason MacDonald, 3 � Clarke Dermody, 4 � Kane Thompson, 5 � James Ryan, 6 � Hoani MacDonald, 7 � Josh Blackie (captain), 8 � Craig Newby, 9 � Jimmy Cowan, 10 � Callum Bruce, 11 � Viliame Waqaseduadua, 12 � Jason Kawau, 13 � Matt Saunders, 14 � Lucky Mulipola, 15 � Craig Clare.

Reserves: 16 � David Hall, 17 � Jamie Mackintosh, 18 � Ezra Taylor, 19 � Alando Soakai, 20 � Toby Morland, 21 � Charlie Hore, 22 � Greg Zampach.

REFEREE: Jerome Fortuin

Josh Blackie allblacks.com 1582057797