Western Force coach Richard Graham was able to name an all-Wallabies backrow despite losing star flanker David Pocock for Saturday’s home Super Rugby clash with the Blues.
With Pocock likely to miss six weeks with a knee injury, Matt Hodgson will take over his No.7 jersey with Richard Brown lining up at blindside flanker and Ben McCalman moving from the second-row to No.8.
Young lock Sam Wykes takes McCalman’s spot next to skipper Nathan Sharpe in the second-row.
Pocock limped out of last Saturday night’s 39-12 loss to the Sharks in Perth with a knee ligament injury and has this week been involved in an ugly Twitter spat with Sharks prop Jannie du Plessis.
During the match, du Plessis grabbed Pocock by the head and bent him backwards after the Force flanker had wrestled for the ball with the South African’s brother, hooker Bismarck.
Pocock quoted du Plessis as saying: “Next time, I’ll break your (expletive) neck.”
The heated moment seemed to have cleared by Wednesday, with Pocock deleting his jabs at du Plessis.
He also indicated a truce: “Got a call from Jannie du Plessis last night ended up having a good chat, no hard feelings, all sorted. Good luck to the Sharks vs the Rebels.”
Graham was as confident of a strong showing against the Blues.
“We take confidence in that we can bring Ben back from the second row into the backrow and are able to maintain proven quality personnel in that area,” he said.
“I thought Sam was outstanding last week … There certainly has been plenty of positive feedback about his performance and I think he clearly demonstrated why we were so keen to re-sign him for a further two years.”
In the backline, Nick Cummins will be given a start at outside centre to fill the gap left by Mitch Inman (elbow injury) while Alfie Mafi will start on the wing after twice coming off the bench.
The reshuffle across the park will put even more responsibility on the Force’s playmakers, five-eighth James O’Connor and inside centre Gene Fairbanks, but coach Graham is confident they can handle it.
“We’ll use Gene at first receiver at times while James will rotate through to fullback, we’ve got the flexibility so we want to utilise that,” he said.
“They’ve both played different roles at various times this year and this week our intention is to formalise it a bit more.
“(The Blues) certainly have a strong squad … They philosophically play a very attacking game and have done so in the opening weeks.
“We need to be mindful of their runners and be strong in our one on one defence.”