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Wellington v Bay of Plenty
Wellington, tonight, 7.35pm
Lead-in to final: Wellington has lost just one game all season, when it went down narrowly to Tasman early on. It has a lot of depth and players in form and working hard for each other. It ran away with the semifinal over Northland, winning 49-21.
Bay of Plenty was up and down throughout the season but put on a good showing to get home over a misfiring Otago last week in the semifinal. It had a relatively kind draw.
When the two sides met in the regular season, Bay of Plenty was well beaten, going down 31-10 in Rotorua.
Key players: For Wellington, first five-eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop has really taken a step up this year. He looks a completely different player than the rather tubby, slow inside back who played for the Rebels this year. The Wellington tight five has stood strong this season and not backed down against anyone. Massive prop Alex Fidow has had a break-out year and knows the way to the tryline.
Mike Delany may be closer to 40 than 30 but he is still playing well for the Steamers. He has an accurate boot and can guide his side round the paddock. Monty Ioane and Chase Tiatia are dangerous runners out wide. Up front, Tom Franklin is back after missing last week and he is a big boost for the side. The scrum has been solid for Bay of Plenty and should hold up well again tonight.
What will happen: If Wellington loses this one then it will nudge out the likes of Greg Norman and Dean Barker as the biggest choker of all time. The men from the capital have been the form side in the entire competition and have quality players right across the park. Bay of Plenty will give it a good attempt but it is hard to see how it can win.
Tip: 41-14 Wellington
Question: With all the players in Wellington, did it have to import a journeyman fullback in Trent Renata? Should it even be allowed to do that?
Canterbury v Tasman
Christchurch, tomorrow, 7.35pm
Lead-in to final: Canterbury has been trucking along all right without really putting the house on fire. The side lost the Ranfurly Shield in a defeat to Taranaki and was also thumped by Wellington. But it has been its trademark usual efficient self and disposed of most opponents. There were a couple of scares in the semifinal against North Harbour but in the end the red and blacks got home.
Tasman was very slow out of the blocks but has come right. It was thumped by Counties-Manukau in the final regular-season game but then came back to upset Taranaki in New Plymouth last week.
Key players: Canterbury leans quite heavily on No8 Luke Whitelock. When he was injured for about a month during the season, the side looked lost.
Richie Mo'unga and Mitchell Drummond have both played well this year and are leaving the next day to play against the All Blacks. Along with key lock Dominic Bird, they will want to make it a pleasant flight.
Tasman's Mitchell Hunt scored 25 points in the semifinal win last weekend and has kept up the good form he displayed with the Crusaders. It will be winger James Lowe's last game for the Makos as he heads offshore while prop Siosiua Halanukonuka is also departing.
What will happen: These sides met at the start of the season and Canterbury won 39-0. That will not happen again but Canterbury should win its ninth title in the past 10 years.
Tip: 27-18 Canterbury
Question: How hard will it be to stomach if Canterbury wins to go with a Crusaders triumph? Let's not even think about Canterbury women beating Counties-Manukau.