Wellington - Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd predicted that Saturday's Super Rugby final against the Highlanders is unlikely to be a dour low-scoring contest and based on performances this season he is likely to be right.
While New Zealand's official TAB oddsmakers had offered 250-1 on a Hurricanes-Highlanders final before the competition began, the sides ultimately proved to be the strongest in this season's tournament.
The Hurricanes topped the table on 66 points with 14 wins, while the Highlanders compiled the second-best record but only qualified fourth due to the vagaries of the format that rewards the winners of each of the three respective conferences.
Jamie Joseph's side won 11 games in the regular season and actually had a points total of 53, one more than the second-placed Waratahs and eight ahead of the third-placed Stormers.
Under Boyd and John Plumtree, the Hurricanes have become one of the most defensively destructive teams in the competition with the third best tackling success, all the while having to make the second-most tackles per game.
Their 'million-dollar backline', which includes five capped All Blacks and one promoted to the squad for the first time this season, combined with their rangy, ball-handling forward pack to help the team finish high up in most of the offensive statistics.
They scored the most tries, carried the ball most, made the most clean breaks, beat the most defenders and made the most metres per game.
In short, they have finally got the mix of bruising defence and blistering attack, just right.
The Highlanders were second in try-scoring but in the last two weeks have also displayed superb tactical nous to beat two-time winners the Chiefs and then reigning champions the Waratahs in the semi-finals.
Both matches were of high intensity and Boyd expects that level to rise even further on Saturday at Westpac Stadium.
"I would expect the intensity and pace of the game will go up another 30 percent," Boyd said. "But I don't suspect it can last for 80 minutes at that pace."
Neither pack will take a backward step with the Highlanders a true set of no-nonsense grafters, though the Hurricanes probably edge the loose forward battle with Ardie Savea, Brad Shields and Victor Vito able to bust tackles and get wide to support their backs.
Reggie Goodes and Dane Coles are also incredibly mobile for front rowers and adept at stealing the ball at the breakdown.
While the packs will do their best to set the platform and the outside backs will provide the razzle-dazzle, the flow of the game is likely to come down to the battle between the inside back combinations.
The Hurricanes' TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett are more keen to keep the ball in hand while Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga have utilised a smart tactical kicking game this season that keeps the Highlanders going forward.
"They have got a really good kicking game that they employ well," Boyd said.
"They play a lot of territory and pressure and have a fair old box of tricks on attack, so I would be surprised if you don't see something a bit zany at some stage."
Kick-off is scheduled for 09:35 (SA time) on Saturday.
15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea/Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes
Substitutes: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 Mark Abbott/Callum Gibbins, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 Matt Proctor
15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoage, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brandon Edmonds
Substitutes: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Shane Christie, 22 Fumiaki Tanaka, 23 Marty Banks