Preview: Rebels v Western Force
The Force will be hoping to make it six wins in a row when they run out at AAMI Park for this derby against an out-of-form Rebels outfit on Friday.
Five impressive performances have seen the Perth franchise prove themselves to be a force to be reckoned with as they close in on a play-off place.
And if they can sustain this kind of form then there's no reason why they can't figure in the business end for the first time since their inception.
Standing in their path this week will be a side they comfortably dispatched last month, winning 32-7 at nib Stadium as the Rebels' form on the road continued to haunt them. While they have won away from AAMI, it is a damning indictment of their travels that they have never won outside Australia.
On home soil however they are a different proposition and the Force will rightly be wary of the task that awaits them in Melbourne, where the Rebels have beaten the Crusaders, Brumbies and Waratahs in the past. Furthermore the Rebels enter knowing they beat the Force 30-23 in 2013's home fixture.
Tony McGahan will also be buoyed by how his team pushed the Chiefs all the way in Hamilton last week, with only a couple of captaincy issues made by Scott Higginbotham an area that needed obvious improvement. Although he is a fine number eight, much work is needed in his calls as last week showed.
This Friday the battle between Higginbotham and Ben McCalman is one to watch as both are pushing their cases for a starting spot in the Wallaby side.
McCalman is one part of a nuggety back-row that includes Angus Cottrell and Matt Hodgson but what's noticeable about the Force is that no one player has stood head and shoulders above their team-mates in this run of form, which is a positive sign that there is a real collective drive amongst them.
From number one to twenty three, every member of Michael Foley's group is making an impact and it is for that reason we fancy their run to continue. The spine of the team is strong as both props put in regular shifts outside Nathan Charles while Sam Wykes (unfortunately now injured) and Wilhelm Steenkamp compliment each other well. Further behind the aforementioned back-row that leaves nothing in the changing room is Alby Mathewson and Sias Ebersohn, who are forming a strong half-back combination, which is helping centre Kyle Godwin continue his steady improvement at only 21 years of age.
So if the Force can continue to implement their simple yet effective plan played at pace then chances will continue to come for the likes of wingers Nick Cummins and Luke Morahan. The question now is whether the Rebels can conjure up another of those home efforts that has done for many in the past. If they can then expect another close contest between this duo like the six previous to this year, with Ebersohn and Jason Woodward's boots set to be critical.
Form: The Rebels have won just one of their last six Super Rugby outings, with that victory coming on home soil against Australian opposition the Brumbies. The Force meanwhile are on a five-game winning run which started against the Rebels on March 8. These two sides have met seven times previously with every game but the most recent being won by seven points or less. The average score between the duo is 27-26 in favour of the Force.
2014: Force won 32-7 in Perth
2013: Rebels won 30-23 in Melbourne
2013: Rebels won 30-23 in Melbourne
2012: Rebels won 32-31 in Perth
Prediction: Five to become six for the Perth outfit. Western Force by 3!
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward 14 Male Sau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Colby Fainga'a, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau,18 Paul Alo-Emilie,19 Hugh Pyle,20 Sean McMahon,21 Luke Burgess,22 Tom Kingston,23 Angus Roberts
Date: Friday, April 18
Kick-off: 19:40 local (10:40 BST, 09:40 GMT)
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Angus Gardner (Australia)
Television match official: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)