Preview: Force v Waratahs

The Force will hope to upset a rather below-average Waratahs side when they meet on Saturday at the nib Stadium in Perth.

Following their narrow loss to seven-time champions the Crusaders last week, the home side will be going into this fixture with even more confidence after being on the winning end in three of the last five encounters between the two teams.

Like most Australian derbies we can expect matters to go down to the wire. This one will be no different and should it live up to this presumption it could come down to who has the better form off the tee.

With former Stormers' pivot Peter Grant in their ranks, the home side will fancy their chances to tip the scales should Grant continue with his accurate goal-kicking form.

The visitors will be punished by the Perth outfit if they do not cut down on their amount of penalties, with an average of eleven per game, so the 'Tahs will not want to give the in-from Grant any unnecessary attempts at goal.

Veteran forward Dave Dennis is set to make his 100th Super Rugby appearance for the Waratahs since his debut in 2007.

Dennis has been an inspirational figure for the Sydneysiders and they will rely on him, once again, given their rather poor start to this year's competition, to continue his fine form at the lineout.

The new look centre pairing of Israel Folau and Wallaby bad-boy Kurtley Beale will be called upon to not only set up a few elusive runs but also put some big hits in.

The 2014 champions will have to avoid Force captain Matt Hodgson's channel – the loose forward has made the most tackles, 14, by a single player so far in the competition. However his opposite number, 'Tahs skipper Michael Hooper, is hot on his heels with an average tackle count of 12 per game.

If the past few games is anything to go by, whichever of these two stalwart back-rowers gains the upper hand, they will most certainly provide their side the advantage needed to claim the win.

The last time the teams met: The home side, who beat the defending champions for a second time in 2015, dented the Waratahs' ambitions of winning the Australian conference. The Force backed their Round One 25-13 victory up with a second one in Round Thirteen. Tries to Ryan Louwrens and captain Matt Hodgson on either side of the half-time break helped the Force edge the 'Tahs 18-11 in Perth. The loss to the Force allowed the Brumbies to remain at the summit, based on a better points difference, of the Australian Conference table.

Players to watch: Hooker Heath Tessmann has been instrumental for the Force on defence. The front-rower has made six tackles, missing only one, in their 20-19 loss to the Crusaders two weeks ago. Outside centre Ben Tapuai has played every minute of the Force's Super Rugby season. The 27-year-old, who has been very disciplined on attack, hasn't lost a ball in contact and was solid on defence, putting in telling tackles despite being on the losing side.

Israel Folau, who has moved from his preferred full-back position to outside centre, has proven to be vital for the Waratahs despite them not bagging that many wins. Second-rower Dave Dennis, who will be making his 100th Super Rugby appearance, has been making a nuisance of himself at lineout time. The 30-year-old utility loose forward has also been busy on attack with four carries and beating two defenders in the process.

Team news: Western Force head coach Michael Foley has made two changes to his starting line-up. Francois van Wyk comes in at loosehead prop to replace the injured Pek Cowan while Marcel Brache returns to man the right wing, replacing Luke Morahan who is sidelined due to injury.

Brynard Stander and Chris Heiberg return to the bench while Future Force Foundation hooker Harry Scoble could make his Super Rugby debut if he makes an appearance off the bench.

In the front-row tighthead Tetera Faulkner will make his 50th appearance for the Western Australian club and will link up with hooker Heath Tessman with Van Wyk to pack down at loosehead.

Sitiveni (Steve) Mafi and Adam Coleman once again partner up in the second-row with sights set on controlling the set-piece. 

The experienced pairing of Alby Mathewson and Peter Grant continue their solid partnership in the halves and will look to get the Force on the front foot against a strong Waratahs defensive unit. Brache is the only change to the back three with Semisi Masirewa to fill the left wing while Dane Haylett-Petty will command the back in the number 15 jersey. 

Meanwhile, Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has made three changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s clash with the Western Force in Perth.

Rob Horne and Tatafu Polota-Nau have both returned from injury and will take their places in the matchday squad.

Horne makes his return to the starting 15 on the wing after recovering from a hand injury suffered in Round Two earlier this year.

Paddy Ryan is back in the number one jersey, with Jeremy Tilse joining the reserves. Benn Robinson has been ruled out due to an eye injury suffered in last week’s match against the Brumbies.

Form: The Force have not been on the right side of the scoreboard these past few weeks, with only one win out of seven matches. They came agonisingly close to pipping the Crusaders two weeks ago, a 77th minute try from Jordan Taufua gave the visitors a one-point victory over the Force. Their only win came against the Reds in Round Two as they find themselves at the basement of the Australian Conference table, two points adrift the Reds.

The Waratahs are currently in third position – five points behind the Rebels – on the Australian Conference table. The Sydneysiders have only managed two victories, both coming against the Reds, from their six games. They will be licking their wounds after losses against the Brumbies – twice, the Highlanders and the Rebels. Despite a spirited effort against the Brumbies last week, they could not edge past the Canberra side in the 26-20 loss.

Prediction: The Force have been known to sneak a few close ones against the 'Tahs, however the 2014 champions should be backing themselves to take this one. Waratahs to win by more than seven points.

Previous results:

2015: Force won 18-11 in Perth
2015: Force won 25-13 in Sydney
2014: Force won 28-16 in Perth
2014: Waratahs won 21-43 in Sydney
2013: Waratahs won 13-28 in Perth
2013: Waratahs won 19-23 in Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 18-23 in Perth
2012: Force won 21-20 in Sydney

The Teams:

Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Francois van Wyk 
Replacements: 16 Harry Scoble, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Rory Walton, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Kyle Godwin, 23 Albert Nikoro

Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 David Dennis, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Paddy Ryan
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Matt Carraro 

Date: Saturday, April 23
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 17:40 local (09:40 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann
Assistant Referees: Will Houston, Michael Hogan
TMO: Peter Marshall