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Hodgson keys as Force look to halt Cheetahs
Hodgson keys as Force look to halt Cheetahs

Super Rugby's leading tackler, Western Force captain Matt Hodgson, will need to be at his accurate best against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein tomorrow night.

Hodgson leads the competition with 149 tackles, helping the Force have one of the best completion rates in Super Rugby at 88 per cent.

But they will need to maintain their defensive awareness against the Cheetahs, who are happy to maul and use their big forwards while displaying traits not synonymous with traditional South African sides.

Bottom of the ladder, the Cheetahs are unpredictable, attack from unstructured play and like to play with width.

Their expansive game has led to some high-scoring encounters, but it often comes with errors that will suit the Force's defensive style.

The Cheetahs' 29 tries for the season is a number bettered by only the Hurricanes and Chiefs, but they have leaked an average of four-and-a-half tries in their past eight games.

The Force have conceded only 17 tries this season, the second best in the competition.

"Defence is key for us," Hodgson said. "We need to get our defence right and stop them scoring because once they start they get their confidence up and their game comes together.

"If we can nullify that and transfer pressure we can come out on top. The way the Cheet-ahs play they are normally high-scoring games.

"If we back our defence, keep our defensive structure and not over-commit at the breakdown we can stop the flood of tries.

"They are definitely unpredictable. There will be a lot more unstructured ball. Their nine and 15 are strike players and will try anything from anywhere on the field.

"On turnover ball, they don't mind chipping it. We've put a few things in place where hopefully we can nullify that."

The Force have lost their past three games against the Cheetahs, but Hodgson, who will lead a side unchanged from the win over the Bulls at nib Stadium last Saturday week, said they had not looked at previous results.

"We haven't thought about the previous years, we're thinking about the way we're playing this year," he said. "Our style of rugby and our defence this year has improved dramatically. We haven't looked at the history.

"As a playing group we are looking week by week. We have a few big milestones to achieve in the next couple of weeks.

"If we can do that we'll start looking at the bigger picture."

The match will be Sias Ebersohn's first in Bloemfontein since he joined the Force from the Cheetahs last season.

- Queensland Reds vice-captain Will Genia has given under-pressure coach Richard Graham unqualified support as they fight to avoid finishing last.

The Wallabies half-back said yesterday that Graham, who made six changes to play the Crusaders, had performed admirably in his maiden season despite the Reds' 3-7 record.

"I think Richard has done an outstanding job," Genia said.

"He's worked really hard, not just as a coach but also as a mentor for the young blokes.

"They have to learn how to train and play at this level and he's done an outstanding job with helping those guys."

Force starting XV: Pek Cowan, Nathan Charles, Kieran Longbottom, Adam Coleman, Sam Wykes, Angus Cottrell, Matt Hodgson (capt), Ben McCalman, Ian Prior, Sias Ebersohn, Nick Cummins, Kyle Godwin, Marcel Brache, Dane Haylett-Petty, Jayden Hayward.

Reserves: Heath Tessmann, Tetera Faulkner, Ollie Hoskins, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Brynard Stander, Justin Turner, Chris Tuatara-Morrison, Zack Holmes.

The West Australian

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