Blues, Chiefs aim to end title droughts in Super Rugby Pacific final

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Auckland-based Blues will attempt to win their first title in 21 years when they host the Hamilton-based Chiefs on Saturday in the all-New Zealand final of Super Rugby Pacific.

The Blues haven’t won a full Super Rugby since 2003. They claimed a pandemic-era title in a tournament restricted only to New Zealand teams in 2021 but this final is their chance to end a long and bitter drought.

The Chiefs in turn will attempt to win the title for the first time in 11 years. They won the tournament in 2012 and 2013 under Dave Rennie who went on to coach the Wallabies.

The Chiefs reached last year’s final and were beaten 25-20 by the Crusaders in a match decided in the final minutes.

Flyhalf Damian McKenzie, who has been a key figure in the Chiefs’ progress to the final — a certainty in the first All Blacks team of the year which will be named on Monday — believes last year’s loss will motivate the Chiefs on Saturday.

“My memories? Well, we lost,” McKenzie said. “Other than that, we had our opportunities but didn’t quite nail them.

“I think it was probably a good learning experience for us heading into this year. Now we know what it takes and we have to nail every moment we can. We were definitely using that as a driver heading into this season and these finals.”

The Chiefs come into the final in top form after convincing wins over the Queensland Reds and the top-ranked Hurricanes in the quarterfinals and semifinals. The win over the Hurricanes in Wellington was particularly impressive and perhaps a blueprint for Saturday’s match.

At the same time, the Blues are unbeaten in their last 15 matches at Eden Park where Saturday’s match will be played. They finished the regular season in second place while the Chiefs finished fourth and they will be buoyed by the return from injury of their captain Patrick Tuipulotu.

Tuipulotu was expected to be sidelined for some time by a knee injury suffered in the Blues’ quarterfinal against the Fijian Drua. He was expected to miss the rest of the season but has made a massive effort to be fit on Saturday.

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

"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.”

The Chiefs will be without All Blacks hooker Samisoni Taukeiaho who suffered an ankle injury in last weekend’s semifinal. Lock Naitoa Ah-Kuoi also is sidelined with injury.

Hooker Tyrone Thompson and lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit have been added to the Chiefs’ lineup and hooker Bradley Slater has been cleared after failing a head injury assessment last weekend. Fullback Shaun Stevenson returns after missing the semifinal.

Cotter has brought a new edge to the Blues this season, a hardness up front which has been missing in the past.

Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan has worked alongside Cotter and knows his strengths.

“I think it’s the blue eyes. When they give you that stare, you don’t have to say too much, you just know you’ve either done something good or something bad and whichever one you interpret you probably need to make a few shifts,” McMillan said.

“He knows what he wants to get from a rugby player and rugby team. He doesn’t mince his words and you know where you stand with him."


AP rugby: