The Blues and the Highlanders have named near unchanged teams for the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final match in Auckland this Saturday.
Both finalists almost took maximum points from the five-round competition and will enter the final off the back of good runs of form.
Highlanders’ management has kept faith with the team that has produced the results over the last few weeks.
Both players with injury concerns, Pari Pari Parkinson and Jona Nareki, have been included.
Team co-captain, Ash Dixon, will play his 100th game for the Highlanders having made his debut in 2015 after a few seasons with the Hurricanes. The inspirational leader was named captain of the Maori All Blacks this week.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald said he is pleased to have a settled look to his side for what is a special occasion, which is expected to attract a substantial crowd to Eden Park.
The only change to the Blues from last week’s win over the Western Force is that Akira Ioane will start at loose forward in place of Tom Robinson, who has succumbed to the concussion he received in that game.
The other loss is that All Black prop Ofa Tuungafasi has not recovered sufficiently and will now undergo surgery to tidy up a lingering issue with his knee.
Blues v Highlanders Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final Preview
The Blues have played the Highlanders 37 times in Super Rugby since 1996, the Blues have won 20 matches and lost 17 times.
The Blues’ 20 wins give them a record of winning 54% of their matches against the Highlanders regardless of venue.
The average score when the Auckland side plays the Dunedin franchise is Blues 26 Highlanders 23.
This weekend the match will be played at home for the Blues; they have had home advantage in 19 of the 37 matches.
In those 19 Blues home matches, they have won 14 matches and lost five.
The Blues’ 14 wins give them a record of winning 74% of their matches against the Highlanders at home.
The average score when the Blues play the Landers at home is Blues 29 Highlanders 22.
The Blues have won three of the last five meetings between these teams.
Average score: Blues 26 Highlanders 23
Last five results
2019-04-20 Highlanders 24 -12 Blues
2020-06-27 Blues 27 -24 Highlanders
2020-08-02 Highlanders 21 -32 Blues
2021-03-14 Blues 39 -17 Highlanders
2021-04-16 Highlanders 35 -29 Blues
Blues overall record against the Highlanders
Played 37, won 20, lost 17, drawn 0
Match Officials and details
Match: Blues v Highlanders
Date: Saturday 19 June
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off local: 19:05
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 1: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 2: Paul Williams
TMO: Brendon Pickerill
15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Joshua Goodhue, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 AJ Lam
15 Josh Ioane, 14 Patelesio Tomkinson, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Scott Gregory, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Hugh Renton, 5 Bryn Evans, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 James Lentjes, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Sam Gilbert, 23 Teariki Ben-Nicholas