A gripping final wrapped up what has been an intriguing Super Rugby season for so many reasons.
The Highlanders have named an unchanged side for Saturday’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final, but their opponents the Blues haven’t been so lucky.
Both lock Pari Pari Parkinson and winger Jona Nareki have been named to line up for the Landers despite lingering injury concerns, although the duo still have to fully prove their fitness at training before taking the field for the decider. If they are given the all-clear, it means the side will be unchanged from the one which defeated the Brumbies last round to book their place in the final.
Blues flanker Tom Robinson has been ruled out following a head knock sustained last week against the Force. One of the Auckland side’s best players all season, Robinson’s absence is a major blow for the hosts, although they do have a more than capable replacement at blindside flanker in the form of All Black Akira Ioane.
There’s no sign of prop Ofa Tuungafasi for the Blues either, with the front-rower set for minor surgery on his knee which has troubled him throughout the season.
In some better injury news for the Blues, flyhalf Otere Black has overcome a knee injury to take the number ten jersey.
“Otes got through fully today,” coach Leon MacDonald said after the team’s Thursday training session.
“He took quite a heavy bang to his leg on Tuesday, but has recovered really well. The medical staff have done a great job, and he took a full part in training today without any signs of anything. I’m really stoked for him.”
For the Highlanders, co-captain and hooker Ash Dixon will make his 100th appearance for the club in the final.
Saturday, 5:05pm (AEST), Eden Park
(15-1): Zarn Sullivan, Bryce Heem, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, Mark Telea, Otere Black, Finlay Christie; Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Nepo Laulala, Kurt Eklund, Alex Hodgman
Bench: Ray Niuia, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Marcel Renata, Josh Goodhue, Blake Gibson, Jonathan Ruru, Harry Plummer, AJ Lam
(15-1): Josh Ioane, Sio Tomkinson, Michael Collins, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (cc), Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harmon, Hugh Renton, Bryn Evans, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (cc), Ethan de Groot.
Bench: Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Sam Gilbert, Teariki Ben-Nicholas