Force captain Matt Hodgson will have an important role to play against the Blues in Perth on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The Force have been the surprise packages so far this season and remain in the thick of things as we head toward the business end of the tournament. A win over the Blues will lift them above the Brumbies into second place in the Australian conference, but a loss could prove damaging to their play-off ambitions.
One player who will be determined not to see that happen is Hodgson. The livewire flanker has put his body on the line for his team this season and has epitomised a team whose defence has stopped all comers this season. He has made a staggering 198 tackles during the season so far, 31 ahead of his nearest challenger Warren Whiteley. He has also won the most turnovers in the competition, while the Force have conceded less turnovers on average per game (12.3) than any other team.
While statistics often have the tendency to highlight only certain elements of the game, it's clear to see that Hodgson gets through a mountain of work on defence for his team. The Blues are packed with dangerous runners like Ma'a Nonu, Frank Halai and Lolagi Visinia this weekend and Hodgson will need to be at his best if the Force are to keep their counter-attacking opportunities to a minimum.
The Blues stole a draw with the final play of the game the last time these two met in Perth. In fact the Force have only managed one win in seven meetings, a 27-17 win back in 2008.
The hosts will welcome back Alby Mathewson (scrumhalf), Hugh McMeniman (flank) and Marcel Brache (centre) for this one, as they look to pick up one of the two victories they require to secure a play-off spot.
Meanwhile, the Blues will have to make do without Simon Hickey, who injured himself while on duty for the Baby Blacks. Fellow U20 star Tevita Li will make his appearance from the bench along with Francis Saili, while Steven Luatua has returned to the starting line-up in place of Peter Saili.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Force 1, Blues 5, Draws 1
In Perth: Force 0, Blues 2, Draws 1
HODGSON'S STATS THAT MATTER
198 – The number of tackles he's made (Rank 1)
21 – The number of turnovers he's won (Rank 1)
104 – The number of carries he's made (Rank 27)
6 – The number of tries he's scored (Rank 8)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Force – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Solomoni Rasolea.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 George Moala, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Charlie Faumuina/ Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta'avao/ Tom McCartney, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Francis Saili, 23 Tevita Li.
Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images