The Force know that nothing short of a win against the Reds on Saturday will be enough to keep them in the play-off hunt, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
After missing last weekend's loss to the Blues, Nick 'Honey Badger' Cummins is back and hungry for meat. The curly haired winger has become somewhat of a cult figure this season with his off-the-cuff remarks during post-match interviews. It has been his performances on the pitch, though, that have made a world of difference for the Perth-based team, where his high work rate has exemplified the Force's approach to the game.
The Force currently find themselves in seventh place, the worst possible position on the Super Rugby log. Four points outside the wildcard spots, but with a game in hand over the two sides directly above them, they know this match against the lowly Reds could go a long way in deciding their fate. A win a few weeks back may have been a given, but there are no certainties come play-off time and they'll have to put the Reds away good and proper if they want to keep their play-off dreams alive.
The Reds proved against the Rebels last week that they remain a dangerous side, something they showed when these two sides last met. The Force had enough to get across the line on that occasion, with a late Jayden Hayward try sealing a 32-29 win.
The return of Cummins has been offset by the absence of Sias Ebersohn, the South African-born flyhalf who has performed consistently for the Force this season. His place is taken by Zack Holmes, who will form an all-new halfback combination with Ian Prior. Wilhelm Steenkamp comes in at lock in the team's only change to the forward pack.
Meanwhile, the Reds have suffered some injury woes of their own, with Greg Holmes (knee), Dom Shipperley (ankle) and Anthony Fainga'a (calf) all ruled out of this week's match.
Samu Kerevi will make his first start at outside centre, with Ben Tapuai shifting to 12. Ben Daley returns to the starting line-up at loosehead prop, with James Slipper moving to tighthead, while Lachie Turner will start on the left wing. Such is the depth of their injury crisis that their bench has four players on debut.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Force 5, Reds 6, Draws 1
In Perth: Force 3, Reds 1, Draws 1
CUMMINS' STATS THAT MATTER
730 – The number of metres he's run this season (Rank 13)
12 – The number of clean breaks he's made this season (Rank 8)
6 – The number of tries he's scored this season (Rank 10)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Force – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Dillyn Leyds, 23 Solomoni Rasolea.
Reds – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Dom Shipperley, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Ben Daley, 19 Dave McDuling, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Samuela Kerevi, 22 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 23 Lachie Turner.
Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images