PREVIEW: Force v Highlanders

Getty Images

Thursday, May 18, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

ROUND 13: Force v Highlanders, NIB Stadium, Perth, Friday 9.45pm (NZT).

Before last weekend's 16-6 win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires the Force had struggled, losing both their home games, to the Chiefs (7-16) and the Lions (15-24), and away to the Sharks in Durban (12-37). Their competitiveness has had them just outside the loser's bonus point in their home losses. Meanwhile, the Highlanders have been on a winning roll, achieving their best streak in Super Rugby and enhanced by winning both games in South Africa, albeit in injury time against the Cheetahs (45-41). They also scored late last week against the Bulls (17-10) while back at home they beat the Sunwolves (40-15) and the Stormers (57-14). But if they needed any reminding of how they have often struggled to contain the Force, the Highlanders only need to recall they lost six consecutive matches to the Force between 2008-14.

Back in the Force after missing the Jaguares game is hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau. Tighthead prop Jermaine Ainsley has recovered from an elbow injury suffered two months ago against the Crusaders while Brynard Stander will be looking to take the Highlanders on in the loose. Peter Grant's display against the Jaguares has seen him retained at first five-eighths while Jono Lance is out with an injured hand. Captaincy of the side will be in the hands of second five-eighths Bill Meakes while fullback Luke Morahan has recovered from a broken cheekbone. In the reserves Michael Ruru is included for the first time since Round Seven when he suffered an ankle injury while lock Matt Philp is also back from an injured foot.

Lock Tom Franklin gets reward for his unerring loyalty for the Highlanders this weekend when posting his 50th game for the side. He has been central to the side's success, including its championship win in 2015, for the quality of control he has brought to the lineout and for his work around the field. Another key member of the side, first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga, is on the bench and ready to return for the business end of the season, but the Highlanders can also be thankful they have had Marty Banks to serve as a faithful replacement. He has been a key part of the side's winning streak and has contributed 90 points with the best goal-kicking percentage of those who have scored more than 40 points in the competition at 93 percent.


Force: 1.Pek Cowan, 2.Tatafu Polota-Nau, 3.Jermaine Ainsley, 4.Richie Arnold, 5.Adam Coleman, 6.Ross Haylett-Petty, 7.Brynard Stander, 8.Richard Hardwick, 9.Ian Prior, 10.Peter Grant, 11.Alex Newsome, 12.Bill Meakes (captain), 13.Curtis Rona, 14.Semisi Masirewa, 15.Luke Morahan.

Substitutes: 16.Anaru Rangi, 17.Francois van Wyk, 18.Tetera Faulkner, 19.Matt Philip, 20.Lewis Carmichael, 21.Isireli Naisarani, 22.Michael Ruru, 23.James Verity-Amm.

Highlanders: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Siate Tokolahi, 4.Alex Ainley, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Gareth Evans, 7.Dillon Hunt, 8.Elliot Dixon (co-captain), 9.Kayne Hammington, 10.Marty Banks, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Richard Buckman, 13.Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Patrick Osborne, 15.Matt Faddes.

Substitutes: 16.Aki Seiuli, 17.Ash Dixon (co-captain), 18.Guy Millar, 19.Joe Wheeler, 20.Jackson Hemopo, 21.Aaron Smith, 22.Lima Sopoaga, 23.Rob Thompson.