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Blues, Highlanders make solitary change between them for Super Rugby final

There is just one change between the two line-ups for this weekend's Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final between the Blues and Highlanders, with both sides happy to name settled sides for the decider.

Akira Ioane makes a run against the Highlanders. Source: Photosport

The only change to the run-on sides sees the Blues promote Akira Ioane to start in the No.6 jersey in place of Tom Robinson, who has been sidelined by a concussion.

The Blues' other significant loss for the occasion is All Black prop Ofa Tuungafasi, who the team said has not sufficiently recovered for the match and will instead now undergo surgery to "tidy up a lingering issue with his knee".

“It’s sad for Ofa who is our longest-serving current player while Tom has led us well this year when Patrick was injured. The boys will be determined to do well for them on Saturday,” coach Leon MacDonald said.

MacDonald said the team are looking to cap a development season with a title this weekend after their painful third-place finish in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

“We have done the hard work in this competition. We learned from the first comp, and we have been more consistent this time. Our defence has been strong, we have been smarter and had more discipline.

“We have thrown away trying to play the miracle ball, and focussed on playing in the right part of the field, off the back of a good set-piece.

“Of course, we want the boys to enjoy this occasion, and continue to play the type of football that has got them here.”

MacDonald added the team are aware of the threat that the Highlanders possess.

“The Highlanders have been outstanding all season. They have excellent set-piece, they are very accurate and they have some dangerous attacking players. It should be a whale of a game.”

The Highlanders have managed to name an unchanged outfit from last week's win over the Brumbies, after Jona Nareki and Pari Pari Parkinson overcame injuries sustained in the match.

The Southerners will draw inspiration from co-captain Ash Dixon this week, with the final set to be his 100th Highlanders match.

Both finalists enter the match unbeaten in the Trans-Tasman competition, only separated on the ladder by points differential.

The Highlanders took the win over the Blues in their last encounter, winning 35-29 in Dunedin in mid-April, but the hosts won the last match between the two sides at Eden Park, 39-17, in March.

Teams

BLU: 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 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1. Alex Hodgman.

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.

HIG: 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.

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.