The Blues have made just one change to their starting XV, while the Highlanders have named an unchanged team for the Trans-Tasman final between the sides at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
The personnel changes to the Blues team promote Akira Ioane to the side of the scrum 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 added 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 focused 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 also said the team are aware of the threat 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 match-day squad from last week’s win over the Brumbies, after Jona Nareki and Pari Pari Parkinson overcame injuries sustained in the game.
Blues – 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.
Subs: 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 – 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.
Subs: 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.