ALL OR NOTHING: The Western Force are approaching their Super Rugby AU match against Melbourne with a finals mentality, as the two bitter rivals scrap for the third play-off berth.
Unbeaten Queensland and the Brumbies, whose only loss has come against the Reds, effectively have two finals spots sewn up with three rounds to play.
Ahead of their Friday clash at AAMI Park, the Rebels hold a four-point lead over the Force, who are ahead of the trailing Waratahs by the same margin.
Force coach Tim Sampson said his team recognised how important beating the Rebels was.
*Article continues below…
“It is a finals-type game – that’s been discussed this week – the importance of this game with just two rounds left after this fixture,” Sampson said.
The Force have shaken up their side, naming four Argentine internationals including halves Tomas Cubelli and Domingo Miotti, while former Wallaby Kyle Godwin will make his first appearance of the year after recovering from a foot injury.
As well as taking over the captaincy Godwin will start at inside centre, while the Rebels also have a new No.12 with Olympic Sevens star Lewis Holland set for his first start.
Godwin, 28, played with Holland back in the Australian under-20, and expected him to be a handful.
“He’s been a great sevens player and he’s made the transition to 15s and came off the bench last week and went really well so I’m sure they’re rewarding that,” Godwin said.
“He’s a ball-playing centre so we definitely know the strengths that he brings so we will be sure to look to nullify that.”
Melbourne skipper Matt Toomua said his team was looking to rebound from a disappointing last outing against the Reds, and also try to get some clear air on the chasing Force.
“If you get this win you all but guarantee a finals position,” Toomua said.
“But probably the biggest storyline for us is to get some respect back from what we against the Reds as that was well below what we expect of ourselves.
“We’re not short on motivation for this match, that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile, Reds coach Brad Thorn has warn his team not to underestimate the Brumbies Jock Campbell ahead of the team’s Super Rugby AU clash.
The 25-year-old has taken an old-school path to the professional ranks, proving himself at club level and the second-tier National Rugby Championship to now own a spot in the Queensland Reds’ star-studded backline.
Campbell’s assuredness and classical skill set have contributed to a six-game unbeaten run this season, showing his versatility with a number of clutch plays as he switched from fullback to the wing in last weekend’s defeat of the Melbourne Rebels.
But unlike many of his teammates, he’s yet to be recognised at the next level, overlooked for a 40-man Wallabies training squad that will gather this month.
That’s despite the Wallabies still searching for a standout No.15 under new coach Dave Rennie.
“He’s come out of club footy and got stronger and stronger as he went,” Thorn said.
“He just does the right thing; low error rate, reliable, consistent … but he’s got his X-factor as well. He can hit a hole, get an intercept and he’s looked to muscle up a bit this year.
“But it’s just Test footy; maybe it’s a good thing in Australian rugby where good players are missing out.”
*Article continues below…
We take a closer look at Round Eight’s matches!
Friday, April 9
Melbourne Rebels v Western Force
(AAMI Park, Melbourne – Kick-off: 19:45, 17.45 AWST, 09.45 GMT)
Each of the last nine Super Rugby games between the Rebels and Western Force have been decided by a single-figure margin on the day; the Rebels have picked up seven wins in that term.
The Rebels have won three of their last four Super Rugby games at AAMI Park; however, they were defeated at the venue 44-19 by the Queensland Reds in their last fixture there (Super Rugby AU Round 7, 2021).
The Rebels have made 10+ clean breaks in each of their last four Super Rugby games after not having done so in any of their seven games prior.
Western Force have had an average of 17 minutes and 33 seconds of time in possession per game this Super Rugby AU season, the highest of any team; the Rebels (14m 2secs) have had the lowest.
Marika Koroibete (Rebels) has gained 82 metres per game this Super Rugby AU season, the most of any player in the competition.
@rugby365com: Western Force to win by five points
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Frank Lomani, 13 Stacey Ili, 12 Lewis Holland, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt Toomua (captain), 9 Joe Powell, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Josh Kemeny, 5 Trevor Hosea, 4 Robert Leota, 3 Pone Fa’amausili, 2 James Hanson, 1 Cabous Eloff.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Lucio Sordoni, 19 Steven Cummins, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Tom Pincus, 23 Jeral Skelton.
Western Force: 15 Jack McGregor, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin (captain), 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Tomás Lezana, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Fergus Lee-Warner, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements – from: Andrew Ready, Jack Winchester, Angus Wagner, Kieran Longbottom, Ryan McCauley, Tim Anstee, Brynard Stander, Ian Prior, Grason Makara, Richard Kahui.
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant referees: Amy Perrett, James Quinn
TMO: James Leckie
*Article continues below…
Saturday, April 10
Queensland Reds v Brumbies
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane – Kick-off: 19.45; 09.45 GMT)
The Queensland Reds logged a 40-38 win in their last Super Rugby encounter with the Brumbies (March 2021); it was the first time the away side on the day had won this fixture since the Brumbies won (29-0) at Suncorp Stadium in Round 5, 2015.
The Brumbies have won eight of their last 10 Super Rugby games; however, both of their defeats in that term came against the Queensland Reds.
The Queensland Reds have scored three tries on possession begun with a turnover won and two tries on possession begun with a penalty tap; no other team has scored more than one try via either of these methods in Super Rugby AU 2021.
The Brumbies have scored the opening try of the game in four of their last five Super Rugby games against the Queensland Reds, with Folau Fainga’a opening the scoring in two of those games.
Queensland Reds’ Fraser McReight (9) and Brumbies’ Cadeyrn Neville (7) have won more turnovers than any other players in the 2021 Super Rugby AU campaign.
@rugby365com: Reds to win by five points
Reds: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Jock Campbell, 10 James O’Connor (captain), 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Ryan Smith, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Feao Fotuaika.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Richie Asiata, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Seru Uru, 20 Liam Wright, 21 Kalani Thomas, 22 Josh Flook, 23 Filipo Daugunu.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Tom Wright, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Nic White, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Sefo Kautai, 19 Nick Frost, 20 James Tucker, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Bayley Kuenzle, 23 Mack Hansen.
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy, Jordan Way
TMO: Brett Cronan
Compiled by Leezil Hendricks
Additional Source: AAP
*Statistical information provided by Stats Perform