Western Force prepared for Highlanders trickery in crucial Super Rugby Pacific clash

Headshot of Nick Taylor
Nick TaylorThe West Australian
Western Force’s Kyle Godwin looks to break a tackle.
Camera IconWestern Force’s Kyle Godwin looks to break a tackle. Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Western Force are on high alert for a Highlanders ambush in Friday’s crucial Super Rugby Pacific clash in Dunedin.

The Highlanders have kicked more than any other side this season, averaging 25 kicks a game.

But coach Tony Brown has made the surprise selection of the season that could signal a move away from their traditional game, bringing winger Sam Gilbert into fly-half - a role he last filled at school.

Brown has also brought size into the midfield with the return of Josh Timu who will partner Thomas Umaga-Jensen in the centres.

The Force will have to break an awful 23-match losing streak against New Zealand Super sides if they are to remain in contention for the finals.

Force match captain Kyle Godwin believes they are up to the task and can handle whatever the Highlanders throw at them.

“We are aware that they have changed a few things and I’m sure they’ve got some tricks up their sleeve,” Godwin said.

“But they are the No.1 kicking side and despite the changes we are really going to have to be on point for their kick game.

“Tony Brown is an incredible coach and he’s always got some classy tricky plays but that doesn’t change the way we want to play.

“We need to make sure we get our own backyard right.”

A loss would see the Force finals chances all but disappear.

“We know what’s at stake,” Godwin said.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - MAY 07: Kyle Godwin of the Force runs the ball during the round 12 Super Rugby Pacific match between the Western Force and the Crusaders at HBF Park on May 07, 2022 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Camera IconKyle Godwin says the Western Force are up to task. Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

“It’s a hard road to the finals but we’ve done it before.

“There’s no reason why we can’t do it again.”

Godwin is the most experienced of the Force midfield trio that will face the Highlanders onslaught, lining up with fly-half Reesjan Pasitoa, 20, and 23-year-old centre Bayley Kuenzle.

“They are incredible players, they have a huge future ahead of them,” Godwin said.

“They are both extremely young with maturity and wisdom beyond their years in my opinion.

“They are quality footballers with a natural ability to read and change the game.”

Meanwhile Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody said picking Gilbert was a shift in style.

“It potentially indicates a change in style of game we’ve been playing in the last few weeks. That’s probably all we can say at the moment,” Dermody said.

They were confident he could handle the role and would be looking to blunt the Force ball-carry game.

“The way the Force play, they come through the front door, especially in the 22 early in the game,” Dermody said.

“We’re looking to negate that.

“What we see is a guy (Gilbert) with natural ability, a strong kicker, a good tackler and distributes the ball well.

“He’s bigger under the high ball as well.”

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