Friday 23 February 2018

Western Force name weakened side to face Lions

Sean O'Brien runs with the ball during the British and Irish Lions captain's run at NIB Stadium on June 4, 2013 in Perth, Western Australia.
Sean O'Brien runs with the ball during the British and Irish Lions captain's run at NIB Stadium on June 4, 2013 in Perth, Western Australia.

Patrick Johnston

The British and Irish Lions will encounter a weaker than expected Western Force team in their first match in Australia.

The Perth-based side have named an inexperienced line-up with an eye on the weekend's Super Rugby clash.

Wingers Corey Brown and Dane Haylett-Petty, centres Chris Tuatara-Morrison and Ed Stubbs, hooker James Hilterbrand and fullback Sam Christie were all selected to start Wednesday's clash at the Subiaco Oval, the six combining for just 20 Super Rugby appearances between them.

Brown and Tuatara-Morrison have not played in the Southern Hemisphere competition before while the replacements bench contains five other novices.

The Force are bolstered by former Wallaby backrower Matt Hodgson, experienced scrumhalf Brett Sheehan and international tighthead prop Salesi Ma'afu but head coach Michael Foley said other first teamers were held back for Sunday's fixture against the New South Wales Waratahs.

"Ideally, you would like a week between games rather than four days," Foley told reporters in Perth on Tuesday.

"I think just to be able to sit down and pick a team and reassess and pick another team. We have had to juggle our squad across two games.

"Realistically, we weren't going to be able to meet the challenge and do it justice by trying to pick the same 22 guys twice."

Foley's Force are coming off a bye week and the former Wallabies hooker hinted he could have played a stronger team if the Lions had played his side on Saturday instead of starting their tour against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.

 

VERY STRONG

The Force are currently bottom of the Australian Conference in Super Rugby with only three wins from their 14 matches this year and the Lions were expected to record a significant victory on Wednesday even before Foley's team announcement.

The Perth side have, though, shown they should not be underestimated with upset wins over the All Black-laden Canterbury Crusaders and 2011 Super Rugby champions the Queensland Reds this year.

Both victories can be credited to a fearsome defensive effort, something that they have failed to produce consistently for 80 minutes in matches this year.

"Our guys play for each other, but there are some things in our game we need to work on," added Foley, the former Waratahs coach.

"If you look at our defence and how hard we fight in that area, we are going to be tested tomorrow night, there are going to be some enormous challenges that the Lions are going to pose but we have developed a very strong defensive mentality.

"Our work at the breakdown has improved through the year and there have been some good positive signs in attack."

Powerful lock Hugh McMeniman and flyhalf Sias Ebersohn are two regulars who were left out of the 23, while exciting winger Nick Cummins and back rower Ben McCalman are absent because they are involved in the ongoing Wallabies training camp in Sydney.

Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree dismissed concerns when asked about the weakness of the Force line-up.

"Its not a bad team," the former England prop told reporters.

"There are not a lot of guys there who have played a lot of Super (Rugby) but it still looks a strong enough team to me."

The Lions will play Australia in three tests, the first in Brisbane on June 22, followed by matches in Melbourne and Sydney on successive Saturdays.

Western Force team, Super Rugby appearances in brackets:

15-Sam Christie (4 SR), 14-Dane Haylett-Petty (9 SR), 13-Ed Stubbs (6 SR), 12-Chris Tuatara-Morrison (Uncapped), 11-Corey Brown (Uncapped), 10-Sam Norton-Knight (66 SR, 2 Tests), 9-Brett Sheehan (92 SR, 6 Tests), 8-Richard Brown (88 SR, 23 Tests), 7-Matt Hodgson (captain) (95 SR, 6 Tests), 6-Angus Cottrell (15 SR), 5-Phoenix Battye (11 SR), 4-Toby Lynn (61 SR), 3-Salesi Ma'afu (72 SR, 13 Tests), 2-James Hilterbrand (1 SR), 1-Salesi Manu (8 SR)

Replacements: 16-Hugh Roach, (Uncapped), 17-Sione Kolo (Uncapped), 18-Tim Metcher (Uncapped), 19-Ben Matwijow (Uncapped), 20-Lachlan McCaffrey (8 SR), 21-Alby Mathewson (97 SR, 4 Tests), 22-Nick Haining (Uncapped), 23-Junior Rasolea (10 SR)

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