An exhilarating spectacle is being promised when the Hurricanes and Highlanders both chase a maiden Super Rugby title.
The fifth all-Kiwi final in the competition’s 20-year history is set for Wellington on Saturday following emphatic semi-final wins on Saturday over Australian rivals.
It continues arguably the finest season in the history of both under-performing sides – the only New Zealand teams still to clinch the silverware.
The top-qualifying Hurricanes overwhelmed the Brumbies 29-9 in Wellington, before the Highlanders boxed clever and pulled clear late to eliminate the defending champion NSW Waratahs 35-17 in Sydney.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd was asked who his preferred opponents were before the second semi-final was decided.
He said it would be nice to get a chance to avenge their mid-season loss to the Waratahs.
However, he then admitted a showdown with a Highlanders side, sharing the same attacking attitude as his team, had a mouth-watering feel.
“If the Highlanders get up, then I don’t think it would be a dull game. I don’t think it would be three-all. There would be plenty of points in it,” he said.
“We’re just happy we can go to the last dance and we’ve got it in our own hall.”
Both finalists averaged nearly four tries and 30 points per game in the regular season.
The first decider to be hosted in Wellington will be the second final appearance for both teams.
The Highlanders lost in 1999 at home to the Crusaders, while the Hurricanes went down to the same opponents at the infamous fog-ruined final at Lancaster Park in 2006, in what was the last all-Kiwi finale.
Saturday will guarantee a New Zealand-winning team for the 13th time.
Few weaknesses have been apparent in a Hurricanes side who have dropped just two games all season and been rewarded with 12 players in the All Blacks’ squad.
The Highlanders’ no-name forward pack has answered most challenges, allowing an exciting back division the space needed to carve up defences.
The southerners recorded the second-best record in the regular season but qualified via a wildcard for the playoffs, proving too slick for the two previous champions – the Chiefs and Waratahs.
Both teams will be close to full strength.
There are no apparent injury concerns for the Highlanders, for whom openside flanker Shane Christie made an outstanding first appearance of the year in the second half.
Hurricanes No.7 Ardie Savea is in some doubt after being forced him off in the second half with a knee injury, while winger Nehe Milner-Skudder – replaced at halftime – is resting his fragile hamstring.
Milner-Skudder was a potent weapon for 40 minutes against the Brumbies, justifying Boyd’s last-minute decision to field him.
PREVIOUS ALL-NZ FINALS:
* 2006 – Crusaders 19 Wellington 12, in Christchurch
* 2003 – Blues 21 Crusaders 17, in Auckland
* 1999 – Crusaders 24 Highlanders 19, in Dunedin
* 1998 – Crusaders 20 Blues 13, in Auckland