Preview: Force v Cheetahs
Two of the tournament's traditional strugglers, the Western Force and the Cheetahs, face each other in Perth on Saturday.
Both these sides are high on confidence after claiming memorable victories last weekend. The Force beat the Reds 19-12 in Brisbane and the Cheetahs edged out the Waratahs 27-26 in Sydney.
The win for the Force was their first ever Super Rugby triumph in Brisbane, since they joined the competition in 2006, as well as their first victory for 2013.
They showed, however, in an earlier loss to the Bulls that they can compete against the more fancied teams in the tournament and were leading the three-times champions for most of the second half before suffering a 36-26 defeat.
This match is a special occassion for Force wing Alfie Mafi who is set to make his 50th Super Rugby appearance. He has played 33 matches over three seasons for the Force, nine matches for the Waratahs (in 2008) and also made seven appearances for the Brumbies (2009 and 2010).
Mafi has been in fine form this season and is the Force's leading try-scorer with four tries in as many games.
The match will have extra significance for the Force as they be playing in their new nib Stadium for the first time since it recently received a $95 million renovation.
The Cheetahs are looking for a third victory overseas, and coach Naka Drotske has chosen not to tamper too much with his side that claimed the scalps of the Highlanders and Waratahs.
He has been forced, however, to plot the Force's downfall knowing that he will be without the services of Johan Goosen who is out of the tournament after tearing knee ligaments.
Drotske has included Riaan Smit as Goosen's replacement and is confident in his new fly-half's abilities.
"To lose Johan to injury is a major blow, but this is the perfect time for Riaan Smit to prove his worth," Drotske said.
These teams have faced each other six times and the Force have won four of those matches and the Cheetahs two.
Two of those Force wins came on the two previous occasions when these sides faced each other in Perth. The Cheetahs will not be worried about that statistic, however, as they showed in their most recent triumphs that travelling overseas is no longer a daunting task.
Head-to-head: They might not be direct opponents but it will be interesting to see how the Ebersohn twins, Robert and Sias, fare against each other in their first competitive match for opposing teams. Sias has done well since joining the Force and will be determined to get the better of his brother and his former team, while Robert will do his utmost to show his brother that he made a mistake to leave their hometown side.
Prediction: Although the Cheetahs have done well on the road, the loss of Goosen will be a huge blow, not just in this game but also during the rest of the tournament. The Force will be keen to impress in their first home game and should maintain their perfect record against the Cheetahs in Perth. Force to win by five points!
Force: 15 Will Tupou, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan (c).
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Matt Hodgson, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Ligtoring Landman, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)