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Super Rugby preview: Defending champions Waikato Chiefs face in-form Western Force
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Defending champions Waikato Chiefs make the trek to in-form Western Force at nib Stadium in Perth on Saturday.
The Chiefs, who lead the New Zealand conference by five points from the Crusaders, will meet a Force side full of confidence after back-to-back wins over the Melbourne Rebels and Otago Highlanders.
Chiefs lost their first game in Perth in 2008, but have won on their last two visits, and the Force are eyeing a big scalp this weekend.
Wallaby forward Hugh McMeniman will return to the hosts starting line-up for their clash.
McMeniman, who travelled to New Zealand last week but was not named in the 31-29 win over the Highlanders, will make his return to the field after recovering from a back injury sustained against the Brumbies in Week Three.
The 22-Test Wallaby makes his comeback on the blindside flank, with Angus Cottrell moving to number eight in place of Ben McCalman, who will miss Saturday's clash after receiving a two-week suspension for a dangerous tackle in the match against the Highlanders.
Western Force head coach Michael Foley says his side is looking forward to the challenge of taking on the reigning champions.
"The Chiefs are the benchmark side in the competition," he said."Having said that, the opportunity to play them at home in front of our supporters is exciting."
Two-time champions Chiefs have used 30 players in just three matches this season, and again will be injury-hit for the clash.
Charlie Ngatai and Robbie Fruean were the Chiefs' preferred midfield pairing in wins over the Crusaders and Highlanders, but both will sit out the trip to Perth.
Sam Cane makes his return to Super Rugby though. Mike Fitzgerald starts at second-row alongside Cane, making his first appearance of the season.
In the backs, Asaeli Tikoirotuma reclaims the number 11 jersey with Tim Nanai-Williams joining the newly capped Tom Marshall in the midfield and All Blacks centurion Mils Muliaina taking his place on the other wing.
"We encounter a Western Force team that is in a confident mood and a team we have struggled to put away in the past so it is a challenge the boys are looking forward to," said coach Dave Rennie.
Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 1 Pek Cowan, 2 Nathan Charles, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 4 Sam Wykes, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 7 Matt Hodgson, 8 Angus Cottrell.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Marcel Brache.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Mils Muliaina, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 1 Jamie Mackintosh, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 5 Brodie Retallick, 6 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane, 8 Liam Squire.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Tanerau Latimer, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
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|Friday 13th February|
|06:35||Crusaders vs Melbourne Rebels|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Reds|
|17:10||Lions vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 14th February|
|06:35||Blues vs Chiefs|
|15:05||Sharks vs Cheetahs|
|17:05||Bulls vs Stormers|
|Sunday 15th February|
|06:05||Waratahs vs Western Force|
|Friday 20th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Brumbies|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Waratahs|
|17:10||Bulls vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 21st February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Reds vs Western Force|
|15:05||Stormers vs Blues|
|17:10||Sharks vs Lions|
|Friday 27th February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Reds|
|11:00||Western Force vs Hurricanes|
|17:10||Cheetahs vs Blues|
|Saturday 28th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Brumbies|
|15:05||Bulls vs Sharks|
|17:10||Lions vs Stormers|
|Friday 6th March|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Highlanders|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Western Force|
|Saturday 7th March|
|06:35||Blues vs Lions|
|08:40||Reds vs Waratahs|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com