Western Force coach Michael Foley has defended his move to rest five starters for Friday night’s clash with the Brumbies, saying it’s a decision that was made months ago.
Hooker Nathan Charles, scrumhalf Alby Mathewson, lock Steve Mafi, prop Guy Millar and flanker Angus Cottrell have all been shifted to the bench for the nib Stadium match.
Although the return of No.8 Ben McCalman to the starting side is a major boost, the other four inclusions were bench players in the opening two rounds.
The top-of-the-table Brumbies were already hot favourites to beat the Force, but their odds have shortened even further on the back of the team news.
However, Foley said the six-day break from last week’s win over the Reds in Queensland – combined with arguably the toughest road trip of the Australian conference to New Zealand starting next week – meant he was always going to mix up his starting side this week.
The Force are away to the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders before returning to Perth to take on the mighty Crusaders.
“This isn’t something we thought about last week. This is something we thought about quite a few months ago,” Foley said on Thursday.
“There are times where rolling out the same 15 every week – you put a lot of stress on those guys, and I don’t think they get the opportunity to play at their best.
“We’ve retained the same 23, we’re just giving some guys off the bench the opportunity to play a different part of the game.
“The guys we’ve brought in have been in good form.”
Prop Jermaine Ainsley and lock Ross Haylett-Petty will be making their run-on debuts, while hooker Heath Tessmann and scrumhalf Ian Prior are the other inclusions.
The Brumbies have made two changes to the starting side that beat the Waratahs 32-15 last week.
Lock Blake Enever (shoulder) and No.8 Ita Vaea (finger) will both miss through injury, with Rory Arnold and Jarrad Butler named as their replacements.
The Brumbies are the early frontrunners to win this year’s title after thrashing the Hurricanes and Waratahs in the opening two rounds.
And their intensity was highlighted at training this week when teammates Joe Tomane and Ruan Smith were involved in a heated scuffle.
The Brumbies have won seven of their past eight matches against the Force.
Foley admits his game plan against the Brumbies may have been too complicated in the past, so he’s kept things simple this week.
“Last week, we got the balance right between width and go forward. We’d like to play faster,” Foley said.