The experience of former All Black Richard Kahui will be key to steadying the Western Force backline in their grudge Super Rugby Pacific clash with Melbourne Rebels on Saturday.
The World Cup winner replaces young gun Bayley Kuenzle who is sidelined after receiving a head knock in his Force debut against the Brumbies last week.
Kahui has been used across the backline, in midfield and on the wing, for the last two seasons and feels comfortable at inside centre next to Kyle Godwin.
“Excited to play…. to come and add something, even if it’s just effort, work hard off the ball and add a bit of voice,” Kahui said.
“Disappointed for Bayley. He had a really great pre-season. He’s someone we can really look forward to seeing in the next two seasons.”
The Rebels have also turned to experience in veteran Matt Toomua to steady their ship as they return home for their first home game in 287 days.
Toomua starts at fly-half with young playmaker Carter Gordon moved to the bench after he produced a mixed bag in the heavy opening-round loss to Queensland.
Kahui said the Wallaby would bring direction and calm to the Rebels backline.
“Their main thrust, 9, 10 and 12 are all really experienced, really great at their territory game, big kickers,” he said.
“They have the ability to hurt you if you make mistakes. We have to put pressure on, slow down the 9-10 combination.
“They are playing a different shape from last year, trying to move the ball a bit more. We need to keep constant pressure, force them deep or to chance their arm a bit and force some mistakes.”
Kahui said the new-look Force will not be inhibited, having been given a freedom to run the ball from the start.
“We’ve got a brand of rugby where we want to take opportunities when they are there,” he said.
“We don’t have to wait. Sometimes in rugby you think it’s the first 20 minutes, lets just kick the ball and go for territory.
“We are talking about taking opportunities. We are not discouraged from playing what we see.”
Captain Feleti Kaitu’u is expecting a huge battle in the pack.
“The Rebels have a very talented group, individually a very passionate group,” Kaitu’u said.
“I’ve no doubt they will front up physically and it will be a real battle up-front.
“They never go away no matter what the scoreboard says. We’re well aware of that.”
The hooker said they would not use the controversial 2017 culling of the Force and saving of the Rebels by Rugby Australia as extra motivation
“We’re pretty big on not wanting to dwell on the past,” he said.
“We want to take the club in a new direction and part of that is accepting what happened and creating our own legacy with the current group we have.”