Nick Cummins will have to shut down opposing winger Waisake Naholo if the Force are to succeed against the Highlanders in Perth, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The flying Fijian has set the 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby competition alight and this Saturday Cummins faces the daunting task of marking the big winger; something none of his previous opponents could do with great effect.
Naholo missed out on selection last weekend against the Cheetahs because of a heel injury he picked up in their 28-23 defeat to the Lions. But he still heads the try-scoring charts (eight), has made the third-most running metres (928) and the joint-most clean breaks (19), according to the Vodacom Rugby App.
The 24-year-old's performances have been of such a high standard that the New Zealand Rugby Union are trying to block his proposed move to Clermont at the end of the season.
And the Highlanders need him at his devastating best again to help them overturn a six-match losing streak against the Force. The Dunedin-based franchise last won this fixture in 2007, but have surprisingly been on the receiving end ever since.
The Force have won two and lost 10 matches this season, with both their victories coming against the Waratahs. But captain Matt Hodgson and his charges will feel they are in with a fair chance to rack up another win over the men from Dunedin, especially in front of their home fans.
Jamie Joseph has made two changes to the side that toppled the Cheetahs, with Naholo and inside centre Shaun Treeby replacing Ryan Tongia and Richard Buckman.
For the Force, fullback Dane Haylett-Petty returns to the starting XV and Marcel Brache shifts to outside centre as cover for the injured Junior Rasolea. Lock Sam Wykes will make his return from a lengthy injury lay-off via the bench.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Force 6, Highlanders 2
In Perth: Force 2, Highlanders 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Force ended their worst ever Super Rugby run of 10 consecutive defeats by beating the Waratahs two weeks ago.
– The Force have won their last six matches against the Highlanders, with their last defeat coming back in 2007.
– The Highlanders have lost 14 of their last 15 away games against Australian opposition.
– The Force have spent more time in possession than any other team this season on average (17 minutes, 23 seconds), while only the Crusaders have spent less time on the ball than the Dunedin-based side (13 minutes, 50 seconds).
– Waisake Naholo has made 19 breaks this season, the joint-most in the competition. No Force player has managed more than 10.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Force||Luke Burton (47)||Luke Burton, Matt Hodgson (3)||Dane Haylett-Petty (579)||Kyle Godwin, Ben McCalman (92)|
|Highlanders||Lima Sopoaga (113)||Waisake Naholo (8)||Waisake Naholo (928)||Elliot Dixon (109)|
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: Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Brad Lacey.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 John Hardie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Richard Buckman, 23 Marty Banks.
Referee: Andrew Lees
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann, Graham Cooper
TMO: Ian Smith
Photo: Rob Jefferies/Getty Images