The first month of Super Rugby action draws to a close this weekend, and with three teams still chasing their first win there is already plenty to play for.
The Force will be the first team looking to set things right when they take on the Waratahs, while on Sunday afternoon the winless Rebels and Cheetahs will do battle in Melbourne so there will be noshortage of hunger on display.
In the pick of the action on Saturday the champion Reds take on the Sharks in Durban as they look to gain some valuable momentum away from home after a solid if unremarkable start to their campaign.
Saturday, March 17
Waratahs v Force
(Allianz Stadium, Sydney - Kick-off: 19.40; 08.40 GMT)
The Waratahs return home this weekend after missing out in a cliffhanger in Dunedin last week and they will be out to bully the Force who have been very poor so far this season.
The home side may have lost to the Highlanders last week but there were plenty of encouraging signs as they took the committed Kiwis down to the wire, so they will be licking their lips at the prospect of playing the Force.
The Perth team managed to lose by 27 points after enjoying the overwhelming majority of possession against the Hurricanes last weekend, and will be incredibly low on confidence as they arrive in Sydney looking for their first win of the season.
The Force will once again be banking on their star players like David Pocock and Nathan Sharpe to produce a moment of magic, but as a team they do seem quite outgunned up against a Waratahs team that has more Wallaby power.
The Force backline has not looked threatening this season, and with their pack likely to be on the back foot against the intimidating Waratahs forwards it is tough to see them calling many shots on Saturday.
2011: Waratahs won 20-15 in Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 31-3 in Perth
2010: Waratahs won 14-10 in Perth
2009: Force won 15-14 in Sydney
2008: Waratahs won 17-12 in Perth
Prediction: The Force seem up against it in this one but maybe their desperate situation will bring them together and help them fight hard against the stronger Waratahs. The home side are likely to soak up most of what is thrown at them before taking their opportunities, the Waratahs to win by 15 points.
Waratahs: 15 Bernard Foley, 14 Tom Kingston, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Daniel Halangahu (captain), 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Tevita Metuisela, 7 Jono Jenkins, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Chris Alcock, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Tom Carter.
Western Force: 15 David Harvey, 14 Samu Wara, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 James Stannard, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Matt Hodgson, 7 David Pocock (Captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Justin Turner, 21 Ben Seymour, 22 Winston Stanley.
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Steve Walsh (Australia), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Sharks v Reds
(Kings Park, Durban - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The Sharks started the season with three brutal South African derbies and after a testing sequence against the Bulls, Stormers and Lions they now welcome the champion Reds to Kings Park.
The Reds arrive in South Africa unbeaten this season, but they have been far from convincing with a last-gasp win against the Waratahs and their scrappy duel with the Rebels last week being good examples of their failure to spark this season.
There is no doubt that the Queensland side have developed a winning mentality and the way they have won ugly suggests that if they get things together then they could be untouchable.
The Reds showed an impressive ability to adapt their approach to their opposition last year and the selection of Beau Robinson, Scott Higginbotham and Radike Samo in the looose trio shows that the Sharks can expect a breakdown blitz.
Ben Lucas will pull the strings this weekend with ace kicker Mike Harris shifted to inside centre and coach Ewen Mckenzie will be looking to him to provide the kind of impetus that the Reds need to hit top gear.
The Sharks are battle-hardened after coming through three competitive derbies and with Springboks Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts back in their pack they have a more steely look about them so the Reds' ability to withstand the physical onslaught will be vital.
2010: Sharks won 30-28 in Durban
2009: Reds won 25-13 in Brisbane
2008: Sharks won 22-10 in Durban
2007: Sharks won 59-16 in Brisbane
2006: Sharks won 36-28 in Durban
Prediction: The Reds will be under pressure up front but they will play smart and should attack the breakdown hard. The Sharks will be made to work hard but they should have too much power for the Reds on their home turf, Sharks to win by five points.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Frederic Michalak, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Louis Ludik.
Reds: 15 Rod Davies, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Van Humphries, 4 James Horwill (captain), 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Luke Morahan.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Sunday, March 18
Rebels v Cheetahs
(AAMI Stadium, Melbourne - Kick-off: 16.10; 05.10 GMT)
Both teams will be desperately searching for their first win of the season when the Rebels welcome the Cheetahs to Melbourne for a Sunday afternoon tussle.
The Cheetahs had their hearts broken with the last kick of the match against the Brumbies in Canberra last week and if they cannot beat last season's Wooden Spoonists then the rest of their tour will be especially tough.
The ball has not really bounced the Cheetahs' way this season and they would have been further disheartened by watching the Rebels' determined performance against the Reds in Brisbane last week.
A major stumbling block for the young franchise has been their dodgy defence, but they really stepped up against the defending champions last week and showed some good character even though they were ultimately beaten.
If they can contain teams better and stay within striking distance, then the moments of brilliance produced by star players like James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale could translate into victories.
There is no doubt that the Cheetahs feel hard done-by and they will be out to make a point in a match they would have targeted as a must-win at the start of their tour.
They will be faced by a team that have shown encouraging signs this season and will be keen to convert that momentum into a victory in front of their home crowd.
With both teams having battled defensively last season, there is the expectation that it will be a high-scoring affair, but as both are yet to win this year it could be a more conservative game than anticipated.
2011: Cheetahs won 41-21 in Bloemfontein
Prediction: This one should be tense with both sides under pressure to deliver after winless starts to the season. If the Rebels bring the attitude they showed last week then they could be tough nuts to crack but the Cheetahs' luck is sure to turn so we are backing them to take this one by a couple of points.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cameron Jacobs, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Davon Raubenheimer, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 George Earle, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Justin Downey, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Steve Lesczcynski (Australia)
By Michael de Vries
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