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Super Rugby preview: Melbourne Rebels host in-form Western Force at AAMI Park
Western Force go in search of a sixth successive victory on Friday as they travel to AAMI Park for a Super Rugby showdown with rivals Melbourne Rebels.
Michael Foley's side have returned five impressive performances to force their way up to fourth and into the reckoning for a play-off place.
The Perth-based franchise may be the form side heading into Round 10 of the campaign, but the Rebels completed the double over the Force last term, winning both matches 30-23.
Force will look to complete their revenge mission against the Rebels having won the reverse fixture 32-7 at the nib Stadium.
The Rebels come into the game having won just one of their last six outings, although Force will be wary of their recent victories over the Crusaders, Brumbies and Waratahs at AAMI Park.
Rebels head coach Tony McGahan has made one change to the team that lost 22-16 to defending champions the Chiefs in Hamilton last week.
In a show of faith in his matchday 23, that lone change sees second-rower Cadeyrn Neville replace Hugh Pyle, who drops to the bench.
Back-row Scott Fuglistaller has shaken off injury to retain his place in the Rebels XV, while Japan internationals Male Sau and Shota Horie make third successive starts.
"It was always our intention to give guys a bit of time during the early rounds, and find out what everybody is capable of, and we've done that," McGahan said.
"It's been a long eight-game block with a break next week, and it's given us a great opportunity to get a little continuity in the side; we're really keen to finish off this stretch of games in a confident manner."
Meanwhile, Force head coach Foley will hand starting debuts to lock Adam Coleman and scrum-half Ian Prior on Good Friday.
Coleman has started on the bench in the Force's past five matches and earns his first opportunity in the starting line-up, packing down alongside Wilhelm Steenkamp.
Prior, who has been a part of each of the Force's match day squads in 2014, gets his first opportunity in the run-on side.
Wing Patrick Dellit makes his return to the Force back three, joining full-back Dane Haylett-Petty and Nick Cummins, who scored three tries in last weekend's victory over the Waratahs in Perth.
The trio replace Sam Wykes (ribs), Alby Mathewson (ankle) and Luke Morahan (hamstring), who have been ruled out through injury.
Foley hopes his side can build on their 28-16 win against the Waratahs last week, courtesy of a Nick Cummins hat-trick, but understands facing the Rebels on home soil will be a test.
"Playing the Rebels at their home ground will be a challenge and separately, we're keen to keep pushing ourselves to improve aspects of our own game," he said.
Rebels: 15 Woodward, 14 Sau, 13 Ellison, 12 Inman, 11 English, 10 Hegarty, 9 Stirzaker; 1 Smith, 2 Horie, 3 Weeks, 4 Neville, 5 Jones, 6 Fainga'a, 7 Fuglistaller, 8 Higginbotham (capt).
Replacements: 16 Leafa, 17 Ah-Nau, 18 Alo-Emilie, 19 Pyle, 20 McMahon, 21 Burgess, 22 Kingston, 23 Roberts.
Force: 15 Haylett-Petty, 14 Dellit, 13 Brache, 12 Godwin, 11 Cummins, 10 Ebersohn, 9 Prior; 1 Cowan, 2 Charles, 3 Longbottom, 4 Coleman, 5 Steenkamp, 6 Cottrell, 7 Hodgson (capt), 8 McCalman.
Replacements: 16 Tessmann, 17 Faulkner, 18 Hoskins, 19 Battye, 20 Stander, 21 Turner, 22 Holmes, 23 Tuatara-Morrison.
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|Friday 27th March|
|06:35||Hurricanes vs Melbourne Rebels|
|09:00||Reds vs Lions|
|Saturday 28th March|
|05:30||Chiefs vs Cheetahs|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Stormers|
|08:40||Waratahs vs Blues|
|15:05||Sharks vs Western Force|
|17:10||Bulls vs Crusaders|
|Friday 3rd April|
|07:35||Hurricanes vs Stormers|
|09:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Reds|
|Saturday 4th April|
|07:35||Chiefs vs Blues|
|09:40||Brumbies vs Cheetahs|
|14:00||Sharks vs Crusaders|
|16:05||Lions vs Bulls|
|Friday 10th April|
|08:35||Blues vs Brumbies|
|Saturday 11th April|
|08:35||Crusaders vs Highlanders|
|10:40||Waratahs vs Stormers|
|12:45||Western Force vs Cheetahs|
|14:00||Bulls vs Reds|
|16:05||Lions vs Sharks|
|Friday 17th April|
|08:35||Crusaders vs Chiefs|
|Saturday 18th April|
|05:30||Hurricanes vs Waratahs|
|08:35||Highlanders vs Blues|
|10:40||Brumbies vs Melbourne Rebels|
|12:45||Western Force vs Stormers|
|16:05||Sharks vs Bulls|
|Sunday 22nd March|
|Waratahs 28 - 13 Brumbies|
|Saturday 21st March|
|Sharks 12 - 11 Chiefs|
|Bulls 25 - 24 Western Force|
|Crusaders 57 - 14 Cheetahs|
|Friday 20th March|
|Melbourne Rebels 16 - 20 Lions|
|Highlanders 13 - 20 Hurricanes|
|Saturday 14th March|
|Cheetahs 10 - 27 Sharks|
|Stormers 19 - 28 Chiefs|
|Reds 0 - 29 Brumbies|
|Highlanders 26 - 19 Waratahs|
|Crusaders 34 - 6 Lions|
|Friday 13th March|
|Western Force 17 - 21 Melbourne Rebels|
|Hurricanes 30 - 23 Blues|
|Saturday 7th March|
|Stormers 29 - 13 Sharks|
|Cheetahs 20 - 39 Bulls|
|Reds 5 - 23 Waratahs|
|Blues 10 - 13 Lions|
|Friday 6th March|
|Brumbies 27 - 15 Western Force|
|Chiefs 17 - 20 Highlanders|
|Saturday 28th February|
|Lions 19 - 22 Stormers|
|Bulls 43 - 35 Sharks|
|Melbourne Rebels 15 - 20 Brumbies|
|Chiefs 40 - 16 Crusaders|
|Friday 27th February|
|Cheetahs 25 - 24 Blues|
|Western Force 13 - 42 Hurricanes|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com