Emirates Western Force Coach John Mitchell has named his team for Friday night’s Investec Super 14 Week 3 clash with the Lions at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.
Rugby WA reports that the Lions are the only South African side yet to be conquered by the Perth-based team, having played out a 34-all draw in 2006 before last year’s one-point victory by the Lions at Subiaco Oval.
Mitchell has stuck to his plan to utilise his full squad on the South Africa tour by once again altering his starting XV, most notably in the forward pack.
Gareth Hardy, Luke Holmes and Troy Takiari will form the third unique starting front row combination for the WA team this season, with Holmes to make his run on debut at hooker.
Australian Under 21s star Tom Hockings earns his third consecutive starting appearance at lock alongside skipper Nathan Sharpe, who celebrated his 30th birthday today.
In yet another shuffle of the back row, Mitchell has awarded Matt Hodgson his first starting XV berth for the 2008 season at openside flanker, with new recruit Tamaiti Horua to start his first match for the Emirates Western Force at Number 8.
Versatile back rower Scott Fava returns to blindside flanker after playing from the reserves bench in last week’s thrilling one-point victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Cameron Shepherd’s return from a knee ligament injury has paved the way for several positional changes in the backs.
Shepherd will again assume the fullback role, with last week’s Man of the Match Drew Mitchell returning to the left wing.
Coach John Mitchell has retained his scrumbase duo of James Stannard and Matt Giteau, while Scott Staniforth and Ryan Cross have been reunited in the midfield.
Mitchell said that his planned squad rotation during the South Africa tour had so far reaped rewards.
“We’ve been delighted with the attitude and the improvement of the group during this tour,” said Mitchell.
“Players like Wykes, Stannard, Hockings and Cummins deserved their opportunities and all have future growth in them,” he said.
Mitchell is under no allusion that the Lions won’t be “up” for Friday night’s contest, despite their drubbing at the hands of the Blues last Saturday.
“If I know the (South African) mentality pretty well, they (the Lions) will come out pretty fired up and determined to rebound from a disappointing performance last week.
It’s important we don’t get intimidated by that and maintain the focus on what we’re good at and what we need to do to win.”
The team will return to Perth on Sunday (2 March, 12.30pm) following Friday night’s South Africa tour finale in Johannesburg.
Overall head to head: Played 2, Lions 1, Drawn 1.
Last met: 24 February 2007, Lions 25 def EWF 24, Subiaco Oval, Perth.
Emirates Western Force v Lions
Friday 29 February, 2008
Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick off: 6.30pm (1.30am WA Sat 1 Mar)
Starting XV: 1. Gareth Hardy, 2. Luke Holmes, 3. Troy Takiari, 4. Tom Hockings, 5. Nathan Sharpe (c), 6. Scott Fava, 7. Matt Hodgson, 8. Tamaiti Horua, 9. James Stannard, 10. Matt Giteau (vc), 11. Drew Mitchell, 12. Scott Staniforth, 13. Ryan Cross, 14. Nick Cummins, 15. Cameron Shepherd.
Reserves: 16. Tai McIsaac, 17. AJ Whalley, 18. Sam Wykes, 19. Richard Brown, 20. David Pocock, 21. Scott Daruda, 22. Lachlan MacKay.Tweet