Preview: Force v Hurricanes
Wednesday, February 25, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
Saturday, February 28, 00:00 (NZDT)
H2H: Played 8, Force 1, Hurricanes 7
Last match: Hurricanes 22 Force 16, 19.04.13 in Wellington
Squad update: Loosehead prop Pek Cowan will become the second most capped player for the Force when running out for his 93rd match.
Cowan had to be carried from the field in his team’s fixture against the Waratahs, and is one of three changes to the pack.
Steve Mafi will start at lock after impressing off the bench in the opening two weeks, while Brynard Stander comes into the back row - with Matt Hodgson and Chris Alcock still unavailable to coach Michael Foley.
Out wide there are two changes, one positional and selection based, with Luke Burton coming into the side at fullback, resulting in last week’s custodian Zack Holmes moving to first five.
The Hurricanes have a captaincy change, with Conrad Smith sitting out this match resulting in Dane Coles taking over the armband.
Blade Thomson will move from the back to second row, allowing Ardie Savea and Victor Vito to start alongside each other for the first time this season.
Chris Smylie and James Marshall come into the back at halfback and fullback respectively, meaning that All Blacks Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea, Ma’a Nonu and Cory Jane retain their positions.
Ray Lee-Lo will partner Nonu in the midfield.
Form: The Force will be playing their first match at home this season, after a 1-1 road trip which saw them stun the defending champion Waratahs 25-13 in round one.
They were unable to repeat the magic in Brisbane, as a Reds team still smarting from their record defeat to the Brumbies produced an 18-6 triumph at Suncorp Stadium.
The Hurricanes meanwhile are toasting their best start to a season in years, with the franchise eyeing off a ten year record, the last time they recorded a 3-0 start – but first they need to succeed where many have failed before.
Perth has been a banana skin location for many teams.
The Wellington based side’s 22-8 win over a well-regarded Lions outfit was well received, but the 17-13 arm wrestle in Loftus showed how the 'Canes defensive approach has grown in 2015.
Key players: Cowan and Nathan Charles will guarantee the Hurricanes scrum a good tussle, while captain Sam Wykes will need a big game to combat what is a very mobile back five for the tourists.
Ben McCalman has continued to be one of the standouts for the Western Australian based club, and his head to head with Vito and co should be worth the price of admission alone – especially considering the vigour in which the yellow and blacks have been contesting the ruck.
Former Blues and Hurricanes number nine Alby Mathewson, who has become an integral part of the side in recent seasons, has plenty of weaponry around him.
Solomoni Rasolea’s work rate is impressive as is his defensive work, while Kyle Godwin is a name that might not be overly familiar to some, but many regard the centre as a long term future Wallaby.
Coles will look to Ben Franks and Reggie Goodes, two props who have been among the best in the competition so far, buttressing a Hurricanes scrum that is doing the job early.
James Broadhurst is managing to outshine some very good locks early in the piece, with even the great Victor Matfield nullified last week, and coach Chris Boyd will look for more of the same.
The backs haven’t been running offensive moves for the last fortnight, but the starch in defence, led as always by Nonu, has been ruthless in how they shut down their opposition.
While some defensive intelligence will be missing without the talismanic Smith, Lee-Lo does add a little more zip to a fearsome outside attack.
Savea and Jane will be relatively happy with their starts to the season, while Marshall adds some extra tactical direction if required from fullback.
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