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Wallabies pair hold the ‘key’ as Force chase crucial win over Waratahs

By Finn Morton
Ben Donaldson of the Force offloads the ball during the round 12 Super Rugby Pacific match between Western Force and Fijian Drua at HBF Park, on May 11, 2024, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Key matchups between some genuine Wallabies candidates are expected to have a big say on Saturday evening when the Western Force host the NSW Waratahs in a decisive all-Australian Super Rugby Pacific clash.

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Former Wallaby Cameron Shepherd has tipped the men from the west to get the job done as they chase a historic finals appearance, while a Rugby World Cup-winning All Black has weighed in on the unmissable halves duel.

The Force are currently ninth on the ladder with three wins from 11 starts, but if they can emerge victorious at Perth’s HBF Park against an equally as desperate Waratahs outfit, then the team from Western Australia could move into the top eight.

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Starting with a statement 37-15 win over defending champions the Crusaders on April 20, the Force have a 50 per cent win percentage from their last four matches which also includes a one-point loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin and a 48-10 win over the Fijian Drua.

That win over the Drua last Saturday was an eye-catching display that has left Cameron Shepherd figuratively singing the Force’s praises as the confident side continues to push for a place in the playoffs.

“They have been just off… I have been saying it all year,” Shepherd said on Stan Sports’ The Call Up.

“If you look at the struggle and the trials and tribulations that they faced earlier in the season, really struggling for a consistent tight five but a backline with a lot of talent that seems to share the ball well, create opportunities.

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“They fell just short against the Brumbies. They were well ahead against the Rebels and should have won that game with a bonus point… (then) lost to Moana Pasifika at home in a game they probably should’ve won.

“If you take those wins, it looks completely different.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
2
Draws
0
Wins
3
Average Points scored
29
21
First try wins
60%
Home team wins
80%

“I think that Fiji game, they not only won but they scored lots of tries, the crowd was going nuts. Can’t underestimate how good that makes a team feel.

“I think coming into this weekend, first Super Rugby finals (they’re) also playing so. There’s so much for the Western Force. I think they’re going to be tough to beat this weekend.”

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There’s no doubt that last weekend’s win over the Drua brought over the very best of the Force’s playing group. Many players stood out, but Wallaby Ben Donaldson was the star who shone brightest with a stunning point-scoring haul.

Donaldson, who started all four matches for Australia at last year’s Rugby World Cup before making the move from the Waratahs to the Force, scored 23 points against the Fijians which included a perfect 8/8 off the goal-kicking tee.

As the icing on the cake, Donaldson also added a five-pointer to the score. It was a masterful display from a man who appears to be among the frontrunners to not only make the Wallabies’ next squad but to start as well.

“When they came over and played the Blues they kicked a lot of ball away,” former All Black Mils Muliaina added.

“Donaldson… we know what he can produce and that game against the Drua… what they’re actually starting to get now is a complete performance. They understand their game plan, understand the style they want to play.

“Donaldson, for me, is key, as is Nic White. So, when you look on the other side, Jake Gordon and also Will Harrison. I mean those there, and also when you look at higher honours (with) the Wallabies, that there is a match-up you’d go just to go watch those four guys play.”

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Flankly 8 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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