Chris Rattue looks at the big match-ups for Saturday's Super Rugby final between the Hurricanes and Highlanders in Wellington. Where will the match be won?
Hurricanes pack v Highlanders pack
Yes, we've lumped them all into one. Whereas the backs are full of obvious individual contests, you can put a blanket over the forwards as the old footy saying goes. The Highlanders - individually - remain relative unknowns going into the final. That takes some doing. But the Hurricanes' pack is hardly star studded, although Ardie Save is a superstar in the making. There is just one regular test bloke in the flamboyant Dane Coles. At full strength, the Hurricanes offer a much greater threat...but also to themselves in the lineouts.
Aaron Smith v TJ Perenara
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The accolades for Smith are turning into an avalanche. Veteran Aussie rugby writer Spiro Zavos this week ranked him as the best all round halfback in history alongside Ken Catchpole and Gareth Edwards. The ranking business tends to take on a life force of its own but there is no doubt that Smith has re-defined the position. His machine-gun passing sets a new benchmark, and he created the controversial Patrick Osborne-penalty try in Sydney with a brilliant flat pass across a little wall of decoy receivers. His yelling and flapping-clapping also energise the Highlanders. Smith is bursting towards becoming a World Cup gamechanger but he had a few stuff ups against the Waratahs although it didn't matter because the 2014 champs were diabolical. Perenara doesn't seem overly interested in matching Smith's flow. Instead, he is the king of getting little combinations going that create tries, with the halfback supporting on the inside. The No. 9s will shove each other about at scrums, and this is a good chance for Perenara - who exudes a cocky demeanour - to show he can counter Smith's over-the-top enthusiasm and lip in a big game.
Lima Sopoaga v Beauden Barrett
Barrett was hampered by injury last week but he needs to drop any excuses and put on a brilliant goalkicking display - if he is fit for that duty - to start dealing to his achilles heel. Overall, the scintillating runner has the winning of this battle on season form and if injury hasn't deadened his game. Sopoaga's ability to deliver the Highlanders' game plan is crucial. Everyone knows how the freewheeling Hurricanes will want to play. But the Highlanders are more adaptable, as they were in Sydney. Will they kick or try to run? On the All Blacks front, the selectors know what their super-sub Barrett is all about. But this is a huge game for Sopoaga in that regard.
Malakai Fekitoa v Ma'a Nonu
Strictly speaking, they won't oppose each other. But they are the midfield players who provide the cutting edge. Second five-eighths Nonu has been full steam ahead and one of the most influential players in the competition. He's pretty much unstoppable. If centre Fekitoa doesn't fire, it's hard to see the Highlanders winning.
Julian Savea v Waisake Naholo
Hard to imagine anyone getting the better of Savea at the moment. He is the best wing in the world and has perfected a few calling cards, like driving low to the goal line. Naholo doesn't need much room to cut teams apart with his speed, as he showed with his kick-ahead try against the Waratahs. But the Hurricanes will cover those situations with more panache, energy and maybe even the odd blocking move if necessary. A tantalising contest in store.