Super Rugby Pacific Final: Teams, verdicts, odds

After 17 weeks and 90 games we've finally reached the end of the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific season with the two best teams in the competition going head-to-head in Auckland.

After holding off a valiant Brumbies last weekend, the Blues will play host to the Crusaders who made no mistakes when they downed the Chiefs in their semifinal clash.

It's set to be a mouthwatering clash, so who'll claim the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific trophy?

Stay across all the team news, odds and our verdicts for the grand final below.

Saturday, June 18

Blues vs. Crusaders, Eden Park, Auckland, 5.05pm [AEST]

Blues: Stephen Perofeta, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, AJ Lam, Beauden Barrett, Finlay Christie; Hoskins Sotutu, Adrian Choat, Akira Ioane, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Nepo Laulala, Kurt Eklund, Alex Hodgman. Soana Vikena, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Luke Romano, Dalton Papalii/James Tucker, Sam Nock, Bryce Heem, Zarn Sullivan.

Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Cullen Grace, Tom Christie, Pablo Matera, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett (c), Oli Jager, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Replacements: Brodie McAlister, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Quinten Strange, Corey Kellow, Mitch Drummond, Braydon Ennor, George Bridge.

Team news: The Blues have named the same starting XV that edged the Brumbies last week, but have made two changes on the bench. The first of those sees skipper Dalton Papalii bracketed with James Tucker, the Blues hopeful Papalii will be right to see at least some action just two weeks after he underwent keyhole surgery for appendicitis. The other change among the replacements sees Bryce Heem replace Tamati Tua, Heem's strong carrying an asset for the hosts among the replacements.

There is positive news for the Crusaders, too, with veteran lock Sam Whitelock having overcome his thumb injury to take his place in the starting XV. That means Quinten Strange drops back to the bench with Zach Gallagher the unlucky one to miss out. The Crusaders are likely counting their lucky stars however after Pablo Matera was spared a suspension despite a two yellow cards, and a red, in the space of three weeks.

Odds [tab.com.au]: Blues $1.74, -1.5 $1.85, Crusaders $2.10, +1.5 $1.95 (odds correct as of 12pm 15/6)

Verdict: The two top teams of the regular season, with a storied history between them, playing in front of a packed Eden Park: What more could you want from a Super Rugby decider [as a New Zealander, anyway]? The streaking Blues got the wobbles late last week against the Brumbies, and probably even should have had to endure a last-gasp penalty attempt, only for referee Ben O'Keeffe to keep his whistle in his pocket and for Ofa Tu'ungafasi to instead play the hero. After last year's Trans-Tasman entree, the Blues now have the chance to cap a memorable 2022 season with the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific crown.

Down south, it hasn't been your classic Crusaders season, or at least a run of near-perfect performances the kind of which we have come to expect from the Scott Robertson era. There was the early loss at home to the Chiefs, a poor night out against the Waratahs in Sydney and, perhaps most importantly, a first loss in 15 games against the Blues. Still, there have been glimpses of the Crusaders of old in recent weeks, their victory over the Brumbies in Canberra and last week's defensive masterclass against the Chiefs two that stand out.

And so to the home of New Zealand rugby we head for the decider, a match for which the Beauden Barrett-Richie Mo'unga fly-half duel is clearly the big ticket item. Barrett appears to have his nose in front for the All Blacks No. 10 jersey, particularly after he cut the Brumbies to ribbons in the first half last week. Mo'unga also provided a match-turning moment against the Chiefs, creating something out of nothing to earn his side a five-pointer.

There is very little between the two packs, with All Blacks aplenty and very little splitting them at set-piece. Nepo Laulala was able to do a real job on James Slipper last week but George Bower will be confident of holding his own at scrum time. The Crusaders do not boast the absolute mauling quality of the Brumbies either, something the Blues simply weren't able to combat last week. If there is a worry for the Crusaders backline, it is the speed of Rieko Ioane and his ability to get on the outside of defenders; Jack Goodhue was badly exposed by the Reds on two occasions in the quarterfinal.

Sadly, it's hard to see how this Final won't be influenced with yellow and potentially even a red card. The Crusaders saw Pablo Matera sent off last week for two yellow card infringements while the Blues might have been a tad lucky that two yellow cards weren't ruled to be red. Discipline -- particularly within tackle technique -- has never been more important in Super Rugby.

All in all, it has the feel of an incredibly tight decider. The Blues will take confidence from their win in Christchurch earlier in the year, and the knowledge that they can in fact defeat the long-time kings of Super Rugby. But the visitors will also be buoyed by the fact that in the 26 years of Super Rugby, they have won four Finals away from home.

Crusaders by 2.