Force v Blues preview




Subiaco Oval, Perth, 19.05 (11.05 GMT)

How quickly the tide can turn. Less than a month ago the Blues sat pretty at the top of the table with eight wins from nine starts and looking red hot favourites to win the tournament, let alone getting into the play-offs.

But the past three weeks saw them being derailed by three South African franchises, all of whom have showed up their vulnerability to a physical, in-your-face approach.

Now they are suddenly in a “must win” situation, facing a team just as desperate as they are for victory.

The only real question is: “Can the Blues stop this amazing slide?”

Coach David Nucifora is well aware of the permutations facing the team.

“We are aware, more than anybody, how important this match is for us,” Nucifora said of his team’s outing in Perth.

“We have trained well this week and are very focused on delivering a winning performance on Friday. That is all that we can control in this complex race for semi-final positions.”

Desperation is also a word that featured strongly in the Force’s build-up this week. The only difference is that the Force require some other results to go their way.

But first they have to get a bonus-point win.

“We come in to Friday’s game with a slim opportunity. We must make the most of it and finish the regular season at home with a performance we can be proud of. Our wonderful supporters deserve as much,” Force coach John Mitchell said.

Despite their record (45-17) win over the Cheetahs last week, Mitchell feels his charges will have to raise the bar considerably against a Blues team that have shown their championship qualities before the recent slump.

“Parts of our performance against the Cheetahs were outstanding, but against a team like Blues we will need to sustain the pressure for longer periods of play,” Mitchell said.

Prediction: The Blues may struggle to bounce back from the battering they took in the last three weeks and while the Force players are not nearly as physical as the South Africans, they do have the “systems” of former All Black coach John Mitchell to counter the Blues. We suspect the Force may sneak this and open the back play-off back door for the Brumbies. The Force to win by 10 points or less.


Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Junior Pelesasa, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Matt Henjak, 8 Scott Fava, 7 David Pocock, 6 Luke Doherty, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Rudi Vedelago, 3 Troy Takiari, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Gareth Hardy
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes 17 AJ Whalley 18 David Pusey/Matt Hodgson 19 Richard Brown 20 Chris O’Young 21 James Hilgendorf 22 Haig Sare

Blues: 15 George Pisi, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 Steve Devine, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell, 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Derren Witcombe, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Nick White, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Ben Atiga, 22 Anthony Tuitavake

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa), James Leckie (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)
Assessor: Ian Scotney, Tony Dunlop

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