Blues v Crusaders Super Rugby Pacific final: Teams revealed for Eden Park showdown..Blues v Crusaders: The four head-to-heads that will decide the Super Rugby Pacific final
Blues captain and All Blacks flanker Dalton Papalii faces a fitness test today after being named on the bench for Saturday's Super Rugby Pacific final at Eden Park.
The 24-year-old has been an inspirational skipper for the Blues this season, leading the team to a record run of 13 unbeaten matches before he was ruled out of the quarter-final win over the Highlanders with appendicitis.
He's been bracketed on the bench with James Tucker.
Otherwise, it will be an unchanged starting XV for the Blues from their semifinal victory over the Brumbies.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald said the team were thrilled that a 43,000 full-house will provide plenty of blue pride for his squad.
"This is set for a great occasion and is an opportunity to seal an excellent season in front of a full-house at Eden Park. We know what is at stake and we have prepared well.
"That said, it is another game, and we need to buckle down, do the basics right, provide good front-foot ball for our backs, and focus on doing the basics right, with discipline both with and without the ball."
Both teams deserve respect for the way they have gone about their seasons, and although the Blues have been the more consistent, the Crusaders showed their DNA by beating the Chiefs last weekend in a performance that was grit personified.
They will be hard to separate, and it may come down to the individual contests with the game.
The Blues No 10 will start for the All Blacks against Ireland, so it’s not a test trial as such, but the two playmakers will have an enormous influence on Saturday’s outcome. Barrett’s running game has been outstanding this season – there are far fewer lateral movements, and the 31-year-old is trying to target any lazy defenders in the middle of the field. His brother Scott will be determined to sort him out at Eden Park, but that’s easier said than done. Mo’unga, meanwhile, was the difference between the Crusaders and Chiefs last weekend. His ability to produce big plays in Super Rugby finals is without peer, and he is 18 out of 19 from the kicking tee in his past three games.
The classic young(ish) bull versus old bull. The Blues lock lacks Whitelock’s size and experience, but if there is one matchup where an ovelooked player can send a message to the All Blacks selectors, it’s Robinson against Whitelock. It’s a big challenge for the Northlander, because we all know how the script goes: the All Blacks-stacked Crusaders tight five put their squeeze on their rivals, pinch a few lineout balls, and show them what pressure rugby is all about. A few years ago that would have been a guarantee, but Whitelock has been showing signs of wear and tear over the past 12 months, whereas Robinson’s energy has been boundless. But does experience ultimately win on the big stage?
The Blues will have analysed the Crusaders’ win against the Reds in the quarterfinal about a million times, because the Reds carved open the Crusaders’ defence twice to produce tries to Suliasi Vunivalu and Filipo Daugunu. Is Goodhue vulnerable against fast centres who get on his outside? He certainly looked to be struggling when Reds No 13 Jordan Petaia outpaced him to set up Vunivalu’s five-pointer. Ioane’s game, meanwhile, is built on speed and Goodhue will need all his rugby IQ to shut down the Blues No 13. Ioane’s determination to make the shift from the wing to midfielder is paying dividends, as evidenced by his slick pass to set up Mark Telea’s try of the season against the Rebels.