Blues have named the team to take on the Highlanders in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final at Eden Park on Saturday.
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.
“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.
The Blues have won four of the last five games against the Highlanders, although their southern opponents have prospered in six of their last 10 encounters dating back to 2017. And six of those games were decided by seven points or less.
Their opponents’ Highlanders have kept faith with the team that has produced the results over the last few weeks and 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.
The Blues team: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 (C), 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.