The Hurricanes and Highlanders are now favourites to meet in the final and ensure that the Vodacom Super Rugby competition has a new winner. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Brumbies achieved the improbable last week when they beat the Stormers 39-19 in the qualifying play-off in Cape Town. It was only the fifth time in the history of the 15-team competition that a side coming from overseas has won a play-off.
The Sharks managed to do it twice in 2012. They beat the Reds in Brisbane in the qualifying play-off, and then beat the Stormers in Cape Town in the semi-final. By the time they travelled back to Australasia for the final against the Chiefs in Hamilton, they were physically spent. Unsurprisingly, they went down 37-6.
The fact the Sharks won two 'overseas games' in 2012 may inspire this Brumbies class of 2015. Unlike that Sharks side, the Brumbies will not have traverse the Indian Ocean three times in three weeks. The upcoming semi-finals as well as a possible final will be played in Australasia.
But whether the Brumbies have what it takes to overcome their semi-final opponent is another story. The Hurricanes topped the overall log and won 14 of their 16 league games. They are a side that has the individual game-breakers, as well as the collective clout. And you just wouldn't bet against them in Wellington.
The Waratahs will host the second semi-final in Sydney. Whether they deserve that advantage or not has been a hotly debated topic over the past two weeks.
The Stormers accumulated the seventh-most log points during the league stage, but were elevated to third position by virtue of topping their conference. This also guaranteed the South African log leaders a home play-off.
Similarly, the Waratahs won the Australian conference, and were guaranteed a home play-off and top-three spot. All they had to do to secure a home semi-final was finish ahead of South Africa's top side, which they did.
In the old system, log points dictated log position. If that old system were to be applied this season, then the Highlanders would have finished in second position and hosted a semi-final in Dunedin. The Waratahs would have finished third.
But as it stands, the Highlanders will travel to Sydney for the penultimate game. They should still be confident about winning this clash, considering they beat the Waratahs earlier this season. While the Waratahs won the title last year, they have not been as convincing in 2015, and far from invulnerable at home (they lost to the Western Force and the Stormers in Sydney).
If the Hurricanes and Highlanders advance to the final, it will mean that the Super Rugby trophy is going to change hands. It will also mean that one of Wellington or Dunedin will be home to the Super Rugby champions for the first time in history. From a national point of view, it would mark New Zealand's 13th title in 20 years.
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