In an attempt to win the crucial battle at the breakdown, Western Force coach Richard Graham will unleash his all-Wallabies back row in Saturday night’s Super Rugby clash with Queensland Reds at Perth’s nib Stadium.
The Reds have targeted the breakdown as an area where they must nullify the Force if they are to break a run of back-to-back losses.
But the visitors face a stern challenge to achieve their goal against the back-row brilliance of Richard Brown, David Pocock and Matt Hodgson.
Brown, who underwent a double shoulder operation over the off-season, has been handed his first start of the year, while fellow Wallaby Ben McCalman will take his place on the bench after recovering from his own shoulder injury.
Queensland are pinning their hopes on Scott Higginbotham, Liam Gill and Jake Schatz to hold their own in the back row, with Beau Robinson to provide cover off the bench.
In a game tipped to be dominated by the forwards, Graham forecast a fierce showing from both sides at the breakdown.
“I think our forwards have been outstanding in the last four or five weeks, and the back row have really contributed to that,” Graham said on Thursday.
“That’s an area (the Reds) will certainly want to win.
“It’s an area that’s really prominent in the way the game’s being played at the moment and our guys have been very good in the first five weeks.”
In other changes to the Force side that lost 30-29 to the Rebels last week, Nick Cummins replaces the injured Will Tupou (hamstring) at outside centre, with Samu Wara promoted onto the wing.
Lock Sam Wykes (rolled ankle) has been ruled out for a week, paving the way for Toby Lynn to rejoin Nathan Sharpe in the second row.
Prop Pek Cowan returns to the run-on side for his 50th Super Rugby appearance, but key backs Cameron Shepherd (leg), Pat Dellit (leg) and Napolioni Nalaga (ankle) will spend another week on the sidelines.
And with halfback Justin Turner ruled out for up to two months with a knee injury, utility back Kyle Godwin has been given a berth on the bench for what could be his Super debut.
Queensland were humiliated 61-8 by the Bulls last week, with the comprehensive loss compounded by injuries to utility back Jono Lance (broken leg) and hooker Saia Faingaa (ankle syndesmosis).
The Force sit last in the Australian conference with just one win from five games.
But with the second-placed Reds just six points ahead, Graham said the race for finals spots remained wide open.
“The Bulls did the rest of the competition a favour in the sense in beating them that way,” Graham said of Queensland’s loss last week.
“I think for us it just keeps the Australian conference tight. We obviously don’t want Australian teams continuing to get away.”
Force: David Harvey, Samu Wara, Nick Cummins, Winston Stanley, Alfie Mafi, James Stannard, Brett Sheehan, Matt Hodgson, David Pocock, Richard Brown, Nathan Sharpe, Toby Lynn, Salesi Ma’afu, Nathan Charles, Pek Cowan. Res: Elvis Taione, Kieran Longbottom, Phoenix Battye, Ben McCalman, Ben Seymour, Rory Sidey, Kyle Godwin