Brumbies dig deep to end Chiefs’ two-year Super Rugby reign
Jarrad Butler scores decisive push-over try after Waikato outfit fight back from 19-point deficit
Australia's ACT Brumbies ended the Waikato Chiefs' two-year domination of Super Rugby with an epic 32-30 play-off win in Canberra on Saturday.
The two-time winners shot out of the blocks to lead 22-3 after 28 minutes only for the Chiefs to storm back and level the scores at 25-25 with under 30 minutes left.
But the Brumbies hung on with a push-over try to flanker Jarrad Butler on the hour.
All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden had the chance to send the game into extra-time, but missed a sideline conversion attempt after Gareth Anscombe's try three minutes from time.
In the other play-off, the Coastal Sharks beat the Otago Highlanders 31-27.
This means the Brumbies now will have a mouth-watering showdown with the NSW Waratahs in a semi-final in Sydney, while the Sharks face the Crusaders in Christchurch. Both games are on Saturday.
"We knew it was going to have to be a full 80-minute performance, you just cannot knock a side like that over easily," Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said.
"We're very proud of that effort and you've got to give the Chiefs a lot credit on what they've done over the last three years. It's been an outstanding effort.
"We've been working hard on our skills not only over the last few weeks, but probably over the last couple of months, getting good transfer into the game and it's exciting to play.
"If we keep getting results like that you have to keep backing it," he added.
The home side had the Chiefs firmly on the back foot with exhilarating passing rushes leading to tries to Nic White, Robbie Coleman and Jesse Mogg.
They could do little wrong as Waikato struggled to stay in the contest, but the Kiwis began to find some rhythm and Bundee Aki scored a try five minutes before half-time to trail 22-10.
While it was all the Brumbies in the opening half, it was the opposite in the second term with the Chiefs playing disciplined controlled rugby and working through the phases to put the home side under pressure.
The Chiefs made the most of the yellow card for Brumbies winger Henry Speight in the 48th minute to score two tries in his absence from scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow and centre Tim Nanai-Williams to tie the game.
Brumbies got their big break with Butler's try off a push-over maul close to Waikato's try-line.
Christian Leali'ifano's conversion gave the home side a seven-point cushion, but the Chiefs again showed their attacking potency with Anscombe scoring, only for Cruden to send the difficult conversion attempt wide.