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Super Rugby Pacific, Final - Teams and Prediction

PREVIEW: The Blues have been boosted by the return of captain Patrick Tuipulotu for their Super Rugby Pacific Final against the Chiefs at Eden Park on Saturday.

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The return comes as a big surprise given it was initially expected to miss not just the remainder of the Super Rugby season but also the opening All Black fixtures of the year against England and Fiji due to a knee injury.

The captain’s return will come as a huge relief to Blues and All Black fans alike while pushing young lock Josh Beehre to the bench after an impressive outing in the semifinal against the Brumbies.

“Patty’s a Blues man, through and through, and came to us this week pretty keen to play in a Grand Final. He tested the knee on Monday in the gym, then on the grass yesterday [Tuesday],” said Blues coach Vern Cotter.

“He’s pulled up well and has the all-clear from our medical team – he’s a welcome addition to our pack, our talisman lock and leader.

Blues doctor James McGarvey added: “Patty felt good on Monday and, with strapping found, he was able to do everything rugby-related with minimal symptoms.

“Given it’s a final, he decided to try to work through the week and play.”

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The Blues centurion assumes captaincy and is joined by Bryce Heem in returning from injury, with the midfielder taking up the No.22 jersey on the bench.

Meanwhile, Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan is not expecting the Blues to change their style for the finale on Saturday.

“The team are embracing finals week and look forward to what will be a massive occasion for rugby,” said McMillan.

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“The Blues have impressed with how they have gone about their work, establishing a harder edge under Vern whilst maintaining their ability to hurt you through their explosive backs.

“I can’t see them wavering from their willingness to kick long, pressure the ball and go to war through the middle of the park, so we at least know what’s coming our way.”

By contrast, the Chiefs have had a rollercoaster season of results but have been dominant in their quarter and semifinal matches against tough opponents.

“We produced some good footy when it mattered and feel battle-hardened for a final. Our leaders have really stepped up, driven our preparation and led by example through their performances.

“It’s unfortunate to have lost some key players through injury, but no team has been immune to this, and you won’t see us worrying about something we can’t control.

“We are genuinely excited for the players who now get their opportunity. In Tyrone Thompson and Manaaki Selby-Rickit, we have two quality players who will serve the team extremely well,” said McMillan.

Thompson shifts into the starting hooker position following last weekend’s injury to Samisoni Taukei’aho and Selby-Rickit comes onto the bench, replacing Naitoa Ah Kuoi.

The return of Shaun Stevenson sees Daniel Rona shifted to the reserves to provide impact for the backs.

Prediction

@rugby365com: Blues by six points.

Teams:

Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Tele’a, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 AJ Lam, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Joshua Fusitu’a, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Josh Beehre, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Taufa Funaki, 22 Bryce Heem, 23 Cole Forbes.

Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Emoni Narawa, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Rameka Poihipi, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Cortez Ratima, 8 Wallace Sititi, 7 Luke Jacobson (captain), 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Jimmy Tupou, 3 George Dyer, 2 Tyrone Thompson,  1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Jared Proffit, 18 Reuben O’Neill, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Simon Parker, 21 Xavier Roe, 22 Quinn Tupaea, 23 Daniel Rona.

Date: Saturday, June 22
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.05 (07.05 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Damon Murphy and Jordan Way
TMO: Brett Cronan

Additional reporting by Ned Lester (@RugbyPass) & ChiefsRugby 

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