Preview: Force v Bulls

The Force will do everything in their power to avoid a seventh straight loss on Friday when they host the Bulls at Loftus.

2016's only moment of joy came when the Force comfortably defeated the Reds 22-6 in Brisbane, but instead of proving to be the start of something positive that victory just sticks out like a sore thumb.

Defeat to the Brumbies, Hurricanes, Chiefs, Highlanders, Crusaders and Waratahs have followed and only one of those was close, that 19-20 loss to the Crusaders in Perth.

On paper that run of fixtures has proved to be as tough as expected and it leaves the Force languishing near the bottom of the overall table, with just two points more than the Kings.

It's not hard to see were the problems are – in that run of defeats the Force conceded over 40 points on three occasions, including 49 last week against the Waratahs.

They have also scored the fewest tries in the competition with nine. That's a miserly average of 1.125 per game, which is obviously unacceptable. The Force's hard work with their ball carrying isn't being rewarded with line breaks and defenders beaten. 

One lifeline for the Force however is their goalkicking, with the most accurate percentage of any team in the competition on 94, more than 20 percent more accurate than the Bulls (73 percent).

By contrast the Bulls are undefeated through their last six matches – five wins and a draw – and a large factor in that run of success has been their lineout, the second-best in the competition at a 91.8 success percentage rate.

The Bulls have won their last four matches in a row, and a fifth straight win would be their longest streak since a run of nine wins saw them reach the 2013 post-season.

The late withdrawal of lock Jason Jenkins is a setback given his youthful combination with RG Snyman has stood out so far this season and Nollis Marais and the rest of the Bulls coaching staff will hope to have Jenkins back in the fold for their following matches on tour against the Brumbies and Waratahs.

Friday marks the start of a three-game stretch that will make or break the Bulls' play-off ambitions, but led as ever by the impeccable Adriaan Strauss in Perth they will fancy their chances.

The last time these teams met: Handré Pollard's 79th-minute penalty snatched a 25-24 win for the Bulls at Loftus, as the Springbok fly-half kicked 20 of his side's points to go with a try from Marcel van der Merwe. The Force outscored their hosts by three tries to one with scores from Adam Coleman, Sam Wykes and Kyle Godwin, but Pollard's boot settled the contest.

Players to watch: There's a starting debut for the Force at hooker as young Harry Scoble gets the nod following his appearance off the bench the previous weekend against the Waratahs. The Perth-born product has developed his game playing in the NRC with Perth Spirit and previously turned out for the Australia U20 side.

For the Bulls at scrum-half Piet van Zyl gets the nod ahead of Rudy Paige, with the forgotten Springbok (who has two caps) set with the task of controlling the Force's field position through his kicking game. With Paige being the number one option for the Bulls so far this season, this is a big chance to impress.

Team news: Western Force head coach Michael Foley has given his side a shake-up for Friday's meeting with the Bulls with seven changes. In the tweaks to the starting XV, Harry Scoble has been named for his starting debut after impressing in his 35 minutes off the bench last week, Ian Prior and Luke Morahan return to the side after a week on the sidelines and Ammon Matuauto has been named for his Super Rugby debut at outside centre. In the reserves Guy Millar and Ross Haylett-Petty return while hooker Anaru Rangi comes into the squad for a potential debut.

The Bulls have been forced into a late change ahead of their match against the Force in Perth on Friday. Jason Jenkins has had to withdraw from the matchday squad due to a pectoral muscle injury. As a result, Marvin Orie comes in at number five, with RG Snyman – who was scheduled to start in that position – moving one place across in the second row. It will be Orie’s first Super Rugby start for the Bulls. There is also a change in the back row as Arno Botha, who was not included in the original matchday 23, starts on the blindside flank. 

Form: The Bulls have won four of their last six matches against the Force and have never lost to the Western Australian team by more than six points. In none of their last eight matches at home against South African opposition have Force conceded more than 10 points in the opening half of a game. The Bulls have conceded only seven clean breaks per game so far this season, the fewest of any team while the Force have conceded more than double (14.8), the most of any team.

Prediction: All the form signs point to another Bulls triumph, with the Force in freefall. Bulls by nine.

Previous results:

2015: Bulls won 25-24 in Pretoria
2014: Force won 14-9 in Perth
2013: Bulls won 36-26 in Pretoria
2011: Western Force won 26-21 in Perth
2010: Bulls won 28-15 in Perth
2009: Bulls won 32-29 in Pretoria
2008: Force won 15-14 in Perth
2007: Force won 30-27 in Pretoria

The teams:

Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ammon Matuauto, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Ian Prior, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Harry Scoble, 1 Francois van Wyk
Replacements: 16 Chris Heiberg, 17 Anaru Rangi, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Kyle Godwin, 23 Semisi Masirewa

Bulls: 15 SP Marais, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel

Date: Friday, 29 April
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Kick-off: 19:05 (11:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffman, Damien Mitchelmore
TMO: Ian Smith