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Western Force ready for ‘ferocious’ start from Waratahs in crucial Super Rugby Pacific clash

Winger Toni Pulu will be given a last-minute health check before being cleared for Saturday’s crucial Super Rugby Pacific clash with the Waratahs at HBF Park.

The flyer has been named to start but is in doubt, two weeks after suffering a head knock in a red-card high tackle by the Brumbies’ Tom Banks.

His unavailability would be another blow to the Force who have already lost Wallabies second-rower Izack Rodda, scrum-half Issak Fines and coach Tim Sampson, who are isolating as COVID close contacts.

Sampson will watch from a hotel room, linked to assistants Mark Ozich and Paul Tito, who will have matchday control.

The Force need to erase the heartbreak of the last two one-point losses against the Brumbies and Rebels in a game that could shape their finals future.

They are hanging onto eighth spot, courtesy of their bonus points, with the tough New Zealand half of the competition looming.

Slow openings have hurt the Force this year. The Brumbies scored 20 points and the Rebels 13 in the opening 20 minutes before the Force kicked into gear.

But Ryan McCauley, who steps into the second row for his first start of the season, said the side had addressed the problem.

McCauley, who spent the off-season with English Premiership heavyweights Exeter, said they were expecting a “ferocious” start from a new look Waratahs who are coming off a bye.

“We are expecting a physical and explosive start to the game. A pretty ferocious start to the game,” McCauley said.

“We’ve addressed (slow starts) this week and how we stick to our process.

“From an individual point of view our mentality and from a team effort to get out of the blocks.”

Force No.8 Brynard Stander also said there had been a focus on fixing the poor starts.

“It’s important we stay together as a group regardless of the results,” Stander said.

“The ‘Tahs are a quality side. The difference is going to be who wants it more.

“There’s a lot of fire in our bellies at the moment.”

McCauley said his time with Exeter had brought a different perspective to the game that he hoped to bring into Super Rugby.

“Seeing their set-piece, their box-kicking game, and kick chase was really invaluable,” he said.

“I’m hoping to impart that on my game.

“The knowledge, how guys approach the game was invaluable.

“It was good to see individually how they perform and get prepped for games.”

The Waratahs have been boosted by the return of captain Jake Gordon from a hamstring injury, while Michael Hooper is in the starting line-up for the first time.

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