The return of Quade Cooper could be the deciding factor in the basement battle between the Reds and Force in Perth, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The Force are languishing at the bottom of the overall standings with just two wins, but the Reds are not much better, sitting in 14th place with three victories. Both sides have looked out of their depth this season with sub-standard performances and will be eager to pick up maximum points in Saturday's encounter.
A bust-up between marquee signings James O'Connor and Adam Thomson during the half-time break against the Sharks last weekend, spoke of a Reds outfit under pressure and Cooper's return from injury is a timely one. The 27-year-old flyhalf has been behind many a Reds comeback in recent years and he will have to be in top form if they are to avoid finishing last in the Australian conference and the overall log.
Cooper's reunion with halfback Will Genia will also reinforce the Reds' attack and perhaps his presence will spark Genia to lift his game, with the scrumhalf struggling to hit the personal highs of previous years, which made him the best No 9 in the world.
In contrast, the Force camp have remained positive despite their poor run of form and will take comfort in the fact they've won four of the last six games in this particular fixture, with one defeat and a draw since 2012.
The inclusion of Cooper and wing Lachie Turner are the only changes to the Reds' starting lineup, while flank Beau Robinson is set to make his first appearance of the season via the bench.
Force coach Michael Foley has named an unchanged match 23.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Reds 7, Force 6, Draw 1
In Perth: Force 4, Reds 1, Draw 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Force have only ever lost at home to the Reds once before.
– The Force have won just two games this season, both against 2014 champions, the Waratahs.
– The Force (17 minutes, 27 seconds) and the Reds (16 minutes, 36 seconds) rank first and second for average time spent in possession this season.
– Despite this, the Force have made the fewest clean breaks this season, averaging just 5.1 per game.
– Only the Force (53%) have a worse kick-success rate this season than the Reds (58%).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Force||Luke Burton (47)||Luke Morahan, Matt Hodgson (3)||Dane Haylett-Petty (678)||Ben McCalman (101)|
|Reds||James O'Connor (44)||Samu Kerevi (6)||James O'Connor (548)||Liam Gill (116)|
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Patrick Dellit.
Reds – 15 James O’Connor, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Karmichael Hunt, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (c),
Subs (one to be omitted): 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Pettowa Paraka, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ed O’Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Jake McIntyre, 23 Ben Tapuai, 24 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Referee: Matt O'Brien (Australia)
Assistant referees: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images