Pasifika Sipoti previews – History beckons at Super Rugby Pacific final

History beckons at Super Rugby final as young No. 8s set for battle

History beckons as the Blues and the Chiefs clash in the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific Grand Final at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday, where a new winner will be crowned.

The Blues are after their first Super Rugby title since 2003 – that was when they last hosted the grand final, and won their fourth Super Rugby title overall.

Under head coach Vern Cotter, the Auckland-based outfit have been undefeated on home turf in 2024, including Friday’s convincing 34-20 Semi-final victory over the ACT Brumbies.

The Chiefs secured back-to-back Grand Final berths with a stunning 30-19 Semi-final upset of minor premiers the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday.

The club fell to the Crusaders in last year’s decider but have earned another shot at claiming their first Super Rugby title since 2013.

Super Rugby Pacific boss Kevin Malloy said the 2024 season has been an excellent spectacle, with solid results on and off the field.

He said both teams have delivered outstanding campaigns and the final “will be some of the most exciting, competitive rugby we’ve seen this year”.

“Rugby fans across the Pacific will get to enjoy a night of world-class action with two clubs doing everything in their powers to lift the Super Rugby Pacific trophy.”

Chiefs players round off their preparation for the final. Photo: Chiefs

Head-to-head: Sotutu v Sititi

While there are a number of stars who will be on show and battling each other out, two in particular are bound to have a big effect on their respective teams.

The Blues’ number eight Hoskins Sotutu will face the new kid-on-the-block and Chiefs’ last man down, Wallace Sititi.

It will be a Pasifika battle of two young heritage players who are making their mark on the rugby scene here in Aotearoa.

And their names are not new either, with their fathers having both played here in New Zealand and for their respective nations.

Sotutu is son of the former Auckland and Flying Fijian Waisake – a wing and as centre who played for Wesley College, Auckland, and then, for Marist.

He also played the National Provincial Championship for Counties Manukau in 1989, and then, for Auckland between 1991 and 1997.

The Bua man was also part of the first Super 12 season with the Auckland Blues, and won his first cap for Fiji during the test match against Canada, on May 15, 1999 in Vancouver.

He made the Flying Fijians for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, and played four games.

Sotutu was also an All Black trialist in 1995 and played for a non-cap New Zealand XV the same year.

Sititi is the son of former Manu Samoa captain Semo, who played at three world cups between 1999 and 2007.

Semo also skippered the Samoa 7s team, including a trip to the 2001 Rugby World Cup 7s in Argentina.

He also played for the Wellington Hurricanes in Super Rugby, making five appearances, and played 13 times for Wellington in the National Provincial Championship.

While the young Sotutu has tasted All Blacks previously, Sititi is hot on his heels.

The two showed their strength and power during the 2024 season and line up for what many believe will be a torrid battle.

With 12 tries this season, Sotutu is tied with Crusaders wing Sevu Reece. That figure also has him joint leader for most tries in a season for the Blues.

Sititi thrust his name firmly in the All Blacks frame with one of the great individual performances in Super Rugby history so far.

Born in Samoa, raised in Scotland, Japan and New Zealand, named after William Wallace, the lead character in the movie Braveheart, Sititi overshadowed Hurricanes No 8 Brayden Iose, one of this year’s standouts, to signpost his compelling future.

Both are fighting to join Ardie Savea as the second-choice number eight in the All Blacks.

Cotter believes his Fijian giant has improved in leaps and bounds.

“He has gotten better every game and he now plays a key role for us. Definitely a game-breaker now.”

Chiefs mentor Clayton McMillan said Sititi has played well throughout the season and had a big game against the Hurricanes in the semi-finals last weekend in the capital.

“Definitely a big player he has become for us. I know he will be a key for us in the final.”

On record this year, Sotutu seems to have the advantage. He made 138 carries, compared to Sititi’s 125, beat 30 defenders against his Samoan compatriot’s 23 and scored 12 tries while Sititi got two so far.

But Sititi carried 393 metres in post-contact carries, compared to 347m for Sotutu and has 93% successful contact rates. That’s against 88 percent for his Fijian opponent.

The two are part of the group of Pasifika heritage players who have been named in the two match-day 23s.

The Blues have Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Akira Ioane, Sotutu, Caleb Clarke, AJ Lam, Rieko Ioane, Mark Tele’a, Joshua Fusitu’a, Angus Ta’avao and Taufa Funaki.

Chiefs have Jimmy Tupou, Tupou Vaa’i, Samipeni Finau, Sititi, Emoni Narawa, and Quinn Tupaea.

Patrick Tuipulotu during a Blues training session.

Tuipulotu returns for final

Meanwhile, the hosts have received a major boost with the return of captain and All Black Tuipulotu for Saturday’s decider.

Tuipulotu has made a timely recovery from an MCL injury suffered in the quarter-final win over the Fijian Drua.

It was originally rumoured that the injury would keep him out until the start of the Test season.

However, the Blues have named their captain to return in place of Josh Beehre in the second row.

“Patty’s a Blues man through and through and came to us this week pretty keen to play in a Grand Final,” Cotter said.

“He tested the knee on Monday in the gym, then on the grass yesterday. 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.”

Chiefs are counting the cost of a physical semi-final after losing All Blacks hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho.

Taukei’aho suffered a leg injury in the win over the Hurricanes, coming off after the 20th minute.

McMillan has made one change to the bench, with Manaaki Selby-Rickit in for Naitoa Ah Kuoi.

Blues match-day 23: 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 3 Marcel Renata, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 5 Sam Darry, 6 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 9 Finlay Christie, 10 Harry Plummer, 11 Caleb Clarke, 12 AJ Lam, 13 Rieko Ioane, 14 Mark Tele’a, 15 Stephen Perofeta; Reserves: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Joshua Fusitu’a, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Josh Beehre, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Taufa Funaki, 22 Bryce Heem, 23 Cole Forbes

Chiefs match-day 23: 1 Aidan Ross, 2 Tyrone Thompson, 3 George Dyer, 4 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 6 Samipeni Finau, 7 Luke Jacobson (c), 8 Wallace Sititi, 9 Cortez Ratima, 10 Damian McKenzie, 11 Etene Nanai Seturo, 12 Rameka Poihipi, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 14 Emoni Narawa, 15 Shaun Stevenson; Reserves: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Jared Proffit, 18 Reuben O’Neill, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Simon Parker, 21 Xavier Roe, 22 Quinn Tupaea, 23 Daniel Rona

Match kick off: 7:05pm

Referee: Nic Berry; Assistants: Jordan Way and Damon Murphy

*Live blog coverage on RNZ Sport

Fiji eyes OFC Nations Cup

Fiji will be gunning for a good win over Tahiti in their OFC Nations Cup Group B game in Suva.

Head coach Rob Sherman knows a win will see them top the group, with a possible semifinal clash against either Vanuatu or New Zealand, FBC News reported.

Tahiti and Papua New Guinea, who play Samoa in an earlier game, will also be looking for a win each, as a loss willl rule them out of the semifinals.

Tahiti just needs just a draw against Fiji to qualify for the semifinals, while PNG will need to beat Samoa by at least seven goals to nil.

Sherman said they have been preparing well and are determined to continue with the momentum gained.

“That’s really what happens in international football. We can start with some wins and keep it going. That’s our intention.”

He added the team has been boosted by the presence of fans and is anticipating the same turnout and support in their last pool game.

Fiji plays Tahiti tomorrow 7pm at the HFC Bank Stadium on Saturday.

Samoa and PNG meet before the Fiji game.

Meanwhile, the Fiji Men’s football team has moved up to the 166th place in FIFA ranking.

They have improved from 168.

Papua New Guinea and Tahiti have also moved up one place each, with Tahiti now ranked 161 while PNG is at 165.

Vanuatu is now ranked 170, from 172 while while New Zealand has dropped three places, now sitting at 107.

The Solomon Islands is now 133, American Samoa 188, Samoa 181 and Cook Islands remain at 187.

Vanuatu go all out for Paris spot

Vanuatu’s women’s beach volleyball team get their final Paris Olympic qualification tournament underway this weekend with matches against New Zealand.

Both teams have been drawn against two strong New Zealand teams in their quarterfinal matches at the AVC Beach Volleyball Continental Cup – Final in Ningbo Xiangshan, China.

Vanuatu Beach Volleyball said there is no other way to qualify but to win the matches and top the qualifier.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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