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SKY SUPER RUGBY TRANS-TASMAN FINAL: PREVIEW

Five weeks of entertaining Trans-Tasman rugby and we’re down to our top two sides – the Blues and Highlanders. The Blues have gone 18 years without a Super Rugby title. The Highlanders last won in 2015. Who will come out on top as the inaugural Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman champions on Saturday night?

Blues v Highlanders
Saturday 19 June, 7:05pm, Eden Park Auckland
Played: 37
Won: Blues 20, Highlanders 17
Last match: Blues 29 Highlanders 35 on 16 April 2021
Referee: Mike Frasers
Assistant 1: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant 2: Paul Williams
TMO: Brendon Pickerill

OPTA STATCHAT
The Highlanders will be aiming for back-to-back wins over the Blues in Super Rugby for the first time since 2017-2018.

This will be the second meeting between the Blues and Highlanders in a Super Rugby finals fixture; the Blues defeated the Highlanders 37-31 in the 1998 semi-final.

MILESTONE FOR HIGHLANDERS SKIPPER
As if the Highlanders needed anymore motivation, their inspirational skipper Ash Dixon will bring up his 100th game for the southerners on Saturday night. The 32 year-old Māori All Blacks skipper moved to the Highlanders from the Hurricanes in 2015 and last year played his 100th Super Rugby match.  

MONKEY OFF THE BACK?
It’s been well documented that a title has eluded the Blues for 18 years. But could this be the year they finally shake the monkey off their backs? They’ve got a strong side. Led by Leon MacDonald who knows all about finals footy as a player and they’ll have a raucous home crowd behind them at Eden Park. It’s just the Highlanders standing in their way.

MATCH-UPS
Where do we start. There are some key match-ups right across the park for this one. Māori All Blacks hookers Ash Dixon v Kurt Eklund. Dalton Papalii v Billy Harmon. Japanese favourite Kazuki Himeno up against his All Blacks counterpart Hoskins Sotutu. In the backline, Aaron Smith v the in-form Finlay Christie. The battle of the 10s, Otere Black v Mitch Hunt and then at the back, the talented Zarn Sullivan up against Josh Ioane. Some of our best talent on show. This one promises to be a cracker.

Blues: 1. Alex Hodgman 2. Kurt Eklund 3. Nepo Laulala 4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti 5. Patrick Tuipulotu © 6. Akira Ioane 7. Dalton Papalii 8. Hoskins Sotutu 9. Finlay Christie 10. Otere Black 11. Mark Telea 12. TJ Faiane 13. Rieko Ioane 14. Bryce Heem 15. Zarn Sullivan
Reserves: 16. Ray Niuia 17. Karl Tu’inukuafe 18. Marcel Renata 19. Josh Goodhue 20. Blake Gibson 21. Jonathan Ruru 22. Harry Plummer 23. AJ Lam

Highlanders: 1. Ethan De Groot 2. Ash Dixon (cc) 3. Siate Tokolahi 4. Pari Pari Parkinson 5. Bryn Evans 6. Hugh Renton 7. Billy Harmon 8. Kazuki Himeno 9. Aaron Smith (cc) 10. Mitch Hunt 11. Jona Nareki 12. Scott Gregory 13. Michael Collins 14. Patelesio Tomkinson 15. Josh Ioane
Reserves: 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

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