No Australian side was going to go close to making the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final from Week One of this competition. It’s time to put away the dire 2-23 ledger for Aussie sides and celebrate what we knew all along...that two top Kiwi sides would contest the final.
Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final: Blues v Highlanders
Eden Park, Auckland - Saturday June 19th 5:05pm (AEST)
The Blues will be chasing their first Super Rugby title since 2003 and will be starting warm favourites. Ladbrokes have the line at 6.5 points and Sportsbet have set it at 7.5 points.
That’s fair enough. The Blues are playing at their home ground at Eden Park in Auckland and there’s a destiny to this bid for a first Super Rugby trophy since 2003.
Coach Leon MacDonald has turned an inconsistent, frustrating, error-prone group of athletically talented rugby players into a fine team with consistent skills, game nous and knowledge of how to win. That last trait had been missing at the Blues for years and it told when the pressure came on. Now, the Blues are winning tight ones as well putting on big scores.
There were some big ins and out at training this week before the finalising of teams on Thursday. Blues’ ringmaster Otere Black has beaten a leg issue and will be at No.10 but influential flanker Tom Robinson, “Big Red” to many, is unfortunately out because of a head knock. The strength to the Blues’ pack is summed up by his replacement. Two-Test backrower Akira Ioane comes in as another big body with a strong-running game. The Blues will miss injured 39-Test prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
The Highlanders got the all-clear on dynamic winger Jona Nareki and forward Pari Pari Parkinson, who have both recovered from shoulder issues.
The Blues have used the size and ball-carting of their pack to roll forward all season. Players like Hoskins Sotutu have been outstanding. That front-foot platform has enabled the backs to do their damage.
The most important player in this final may well be the little fella many rate as the best player in New Zealand. All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith is 32 and as good as ever. He passes the ball 70-80 times a match so that’s a Rolls Royce touch to every one of those plays he starts or gets involved in. You see his stamp on just about everything the Highlanders do and they’ve scored 30 tries in this comp, including two beauties from Smith himself last round against the Brumbies. Smith can have a huge game and it still not be enough. That's the thing.
I’m tipping the Blues by eight. For an Anytime Tryscorer option, Hoskins Sotutu (Blues) knows his way to the tryline. He's at $3.50.
Anytime Try Scorer - Hoskins Sotutu