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.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders will welcome back Sam Whitelock to the starting side after recovering from a thumb injury, while Quinten Strange has earned a spot on the bench ahead of young lock Zach Gallagher.
With confirmation from the Sanzaar Judicial Committee yesterday that blindside flanker Pablo Matera has been cleared to play in the final, coach Scott Robertson hasn't been forced to make any further changes to his forward pack, and the backline is consistent following last week's impressive semifinal effort.
As far as finals go, it doesn't get any more exciting than taking on the Blues at a packed-out Eden Park," Robertson said.I'm proud of this group and the care they've shown this week to put themselves in a position to go and put a great performance on the field on Saturday night. We had a few sore bodies following the huge defensive effort last week, but everyone has come through the week really well and excitement is building towards Saturday night.
We play for these games and the opportunity to represent the Crusaders region on the big stage - we know it's going to be another step up but we're really embracing the challenge in front of us."
1. Alex Hodgman, 2. Kurt Eklund, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Josh Goodhue, 5. Tom Robinson, 6. Akira Ioane, 7. Adrian Choat, 8. Hoskins Sotutu, 9. Finlay Christie, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. AJ Lam, 12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 13. Rieko Ioane, 14. Mark Telea, 15. Stephen Perofeta.
Reserves: 16. Soane Vikena 17. Karl Tu'inukuafe 18. Ofa Tuungafasi 19. Luke Romano 20. Dalton Papalii or James Tucker 21. Sam Nock, 22. Bryce Heem 23. Zarn Sullivan
1. George Bower, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Oli Jager, 4. Scott Barrett (c), 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Pablo Matera, 7. Tom Christie, 8. Cullen Grace, 9. Bryn Hall, 10. Richie Mo'unga, 11. Leicester Fainga'anuku, 12. David Havili, 13. Jack Goodhue, 14. Sevu Reece, 15. Will Jordan.
Reserves: 16. Brodie McAlister, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Quenten Strange, 20 Corey Kellow, 21 Mitch Drummond, 22 Braydon Ennor, 23 George Bridge.On Saturday afternoon, around 45,000 rugby fans will stream into a sold-out Eden Park to witness the Blues take on the Crusaders in the final of the Super Rugby Pacific tournament.
It marks the climax of the great rivalry between Auckland and Christchurch, but it's also the first major step we're taking towards living with Covid.
NZ Herald senior writer and diehard Blues fan Simon Wilson tells the Front Page podcast that the impact of this event will extend far beyond the proceedings on the rugby pitch.