The Western Force will unveil its strongest backline of the year for its Super 14 clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Sunday morning (AEST).
The need for fresh legs has seen Western Force coach John Mitchell make seven changes to the team that easily accounted for the Lions 33-12 last week – but some of those legs are quite impressive.
Wallabies whiz kid James O’Connor returns to full-back after a two-week layoff with a shoulder injury, while Cameron Shepherd will start on the wing after missing last week due to a flare-up of an old quad injury.
Scrum half Justin Turner, who has impressed in stints off the bench this year, will make his run-on debut but Scott Staniforth has been sent home after suffering a neck injury.
Ryan Cross and Mitch Inman remain as the centre pairing.
Props Nick Henderson and Tim Fairbrother, hooker Nathan Charles and lock Tom Hockings return to the starting line-up.
Charles, who only joined the Force as a short-term injury replacement in the latter part of the season, has extra reason to celebrate his recall after earning a two-year deal with the Force.
The 21-year-old was part of the Brumbies’ academy set-up but made a good impression after answering an SOS call from the Force, with his gut-busting 80-metre run against the Crusaders two weeks ago setting up a try and historic win.
“It shows that if you work hard enough and keep persisting then your opportunities will come,” Force rugby manager Mitch Hardy said.
“Nathan was knocking on the door during his time at the Brumbies Academy and when we asked him to come across and fill-in on a short term contract he saw that it was his opportunity to play well and show that he has a long-term future at Super 14 level and that is what he has done.”
Mitchell said the mass changes to his side were mostly pre-planned.
“We planned before we came away that everyone who was on the tour would be contributing,” Mitchell said.
“We wanted to give everyone a run and apart from the injury to Scott Staniforth everything is going to plan.”
Former Wallabies prop Matt Dunning has been named as a reserve and, should he see game time, will bring up his 100th Super rugby match.
Victories against the Crusaders and Lions in the past fortnight have set-up an opportunity to secure three consecutive wins, a feat achieved only once before in club history.
Western Force: James O’Connor, Nick Cummins, Mitch Inman, Ryan Cross, Cameron Shepherd, David Hill, Justin Turner, Richard Brown, David Pocock, Matt Hodgson, Nathan Sharpe, Tom Hockings, Tim Fairbrother, Nathan Charles, Nick Henderson. Res: Ben Whittaker, Matt Dunning, Sam Wykes, Ben McCalman, Chris O’Young, Sam Harris, Mark Bartholomeusz.