The Western Force take on last year’s Super Rugby champions the Highlanders in Dunedin tonight.
Luke Morahan returns on the wing after recovering from a foot injury and Ben McCalman, the Wallaby No. 8 who came off the bench last week, joins the starting line-up. The Force will want to end their three-match tour of New Zealand on a high after being thrashed by the Chiefs (53-10) and Hurricanes (41-6). But they’ll need to step up in defence because the Highlanders rank in the top five for clean breaks (49) and tries scored (16). The Force have lost five of their last six games in New Zealand and are second last in the Australasian Group with only one win for the season.
The Highlanders have made five changes to their forward pack after returning from Australia with wins against the Waratahs and Rebels. Alex Ainley and Tom Franklin will start at second row for the second time this season and the back row sees a reshuffle. In the backs, winger Matt Faddes returns from injury and halfback Fumiaki Tanaka returns to the bench.
Brumbies v Chiefs, Canberra – Saturday 7.45pm
The Brumbies return from their South African tour, where they won one, lost one, to play the top-ranked New Zealand side the Chiefs in Canberra.
Hooker Josh Mann-Rea returns to the bench following a one week suspension for punching; the starting side remains the same from the win over the Cheetahs last week. Key match-ups at No.10 and inside centre will ensure a tight match between the best teams from Australia and New Zealand. The Brumbies’ Christian Lealiifano will go up against playmaker Aaron Cruden while the defensive centre for the Brumbies, Matt Toomua, will take on Charlie Ngatai, who is second in the competition for tries scored, with five.
The last eight clashes between the Chiefs and the Brumbies have gone the way of the home side. Both sides have won four of five games for the season. The Brumbies defence will be important against a side that has scored 28 tries so far, nine better than any other team in the competition. Backrowers David Pocock, Scott Fardy and Ita Vaea will be hoping to dominate the breakdown to slow down the Chiefs’ attack.
Waratahs v Rebels, Sydney – Sunday 4.05pm
The Waratahs play the Melbourne Rebels in a Sunday afternoon clash at Allianz Stadium. The battle at the breakdown between Waratahs captain Michael Hooper and Rebels Sean McMahon will highlight the Australian derby in an important match for both sides. The Waratahs have had a shaky start but with the return of five-eighth Bernard Foley last week, a win on Sunday could put their season back on track.
Four changes have been made to the Waratahs line-up. Kurtley Beale and Rob Horne, both injured, will be replaced by David Horwitz and Matt Carraro. Veteran prop Benn Robinson makes his way back to the starting XV and young hooker Hugh Roach gets a chance to start after Tolu Latu was injured last week. Will Skelton comes back onto the bench and will provide some weight in the scrum with the reserves likely to be a factor in the match. The new-look front row will be under pressure after failing to match a dominant Queensland Reds scrum in round five. The Rebels return from New Zealand with a 27-3 loss against the Highlanders. They lie above NSW at second in the Australian conference after a 3-2 start to the season but have lost nine of their last 10 matches against the Waratahs. – Andrew Cullen
Photo of Brumby Josh Mann-Rea from Super Rugby Australia’s Twitter page.