Blues vs. Manawa: Clash of Titans in the Super Rugby Aupiki Final

h 00126232

Blues and Black Ferns fullback Patricia Maliepo is confident the Blues won’t stumble in the final as Manawa did as the top qualifier in 2023.

“We’ve been building each week and were unstoppable in some areas of the field. This is the last dance. The work we’ve put in will come out on the field,” Maliepo said.

“Our connection hasn’t been forced. We had a camp before the season where we went on a kayaking trip, we do mini-team activities which drive care for each other and competitiveness in the team.”

Aupiki squads assemble on Thursday for two days of practice before matches on Saturday.  Building quick connections is essential. For the Blues that’s involved Black Ferns skipper and World Rugby Player of the Year (2022) Ruahei Demant playing second-five instead of her more customary position of first-five. Krysten Cottrell has worn the Blues Ten jersey. The former Black Ferns pivot has scored a competition-leading 45 points in six matches.

“Ten’s play differently. Their main role is to distribute and drive the game. Having Duffy at ten gives us more calm and patience.  She plays at a pace we can meet. Lu at second can run and give that offload when it’s on. We have the best ten in the world at 12 where she can express herself in ways she normally wouldn’t,” Maliepo observed.

Demant, Liana Mikaele-Tu'u (2023: Black Ferns Player of the Year), and Sylvia Brunt have all faced spells on the sideline. Elizabeth MoiMoi, Daynah Nankivell, and Tafito Lafaele have all had to step up.

Maliepo hasn’t been shackled by the foot injury that hampered her for much of 2023. She has been defensively sound and made timely injections on attack ranking fifth in carries (61), sixth in metres gained (316), and second in offloads (9).

Thirteen players from in Blues on Saturday played for Auckland in the upset of Canterbury in the 2023 Farah Palmer Cup final. Maliepo says the Blues have “parked that” as Manawa represents a different beast.

The 2022 champions lost the final after leading Matatū 19-0 last year. Manawa are stacked with Black Ferns. Maliepo is aware of the visitors' strengths.

"Their forwards. If our forwards meet them early and give them a taste of what we’ve got we can hurt them.”

The Blues won the last encounter on March 30 by 40-26 in Hamilton.

Key Points

Chiefs Manawa has the best record of any team in the competition. Including a 39-12 win over the Blues at Eden Park in 2021. They have won 11 of 14 matches. The Blues have won 7 of 12.

Chiefs Manawa won the 2022 decider 35-0 against the Blues. It was not an official final but the last round-robin match which Manawa won to top the standings. Luka Connor, Ruby Tui, Hazel Tubic, Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, and Langi Veainu scored tries. Kelly Brazier slotted two conversions and two penalties.

Chiefs Manawa has 15 past or present Black Ferns.  The Blues have 11.

The Blues have scored 31 tires and have made the most carries of any team.

Manawa scored 30 tries but had 15 more clean breaks than the Blues.

Black Ferns co-captain Kennedy Simon is the Chiefs top individual tackler with 82 in six matches. Maia Roos has 74 for the Blues.

Black Ferns winger Katelyn Vaha’akolo (Blues) and Manawa hooker Luka Connor are the top tries scorers with six. Connor has scored an Aupiki record 16 tries in 13 games.