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Aaron Smith (right) celebrates with his Highlanders team-mates after Patrick Osborne scored a late try to cap their 35-17 Super Rugby semi-final victory against the NSW Waratahs on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Hurricanes, Highlanders crush Aussie hopes to set up all-Kiwi Super Rugby final

Canes humble the Brumbies 29-9 in Wellington, while five-try south islanders make Waratahs pay for errors in 35-17 away win


Please click on the link for videos of post-match reaction following Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-finals.

Super Rugby will have a first-time champion this season after the Hurricanes and Highlanders won their semi-finals Saturday to set up the first all-New Zealand final in nearly a decade.

The Hurricanes will host the decider for the first time after beating the ACT Brumbies 29-9 in Wellington and will vie for their first Super Rugby title with the Highlanders, who scored five tries to oust the defending champions New South Wales Waratahs 35-17.

The Highlanders had never reached the final in the competition’s 19-year history. The Hurricanes got there the last time it featured two New Zealand teams, in 2006, when they lost to Christchurch-based Crusaders.

The make up of the final on July 4 rewards the two best teams in the competition this season. The tearaway Hurricanes finished clearly in first place at the end of the regular season and the Highlanders had the second-best points tally and record, but under Super Rugby’s arcane conference system second place and home advantage in Saturday’s semi-final was awarded to the Waratahs.
Michael Hooper of the Waratahs tries to stop a kick by Aaron Smith of Highlanders during their Super Rugby semi-final in Sydney. Photo: AFP
The Sydney-based outfit have one of the biggest home advantages in the competition but the Highlanders made light of that Saturday, scoring five tries to one – including a contentious penalty try and the 12th try of the season to new All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo.

The win was the Highlanders’ first against the Waratahs in Sydney in eight years and their first-ever in a play-off match in Australia. It ended the Waratahs’ one-year rule as champions and ensured the team that wins the final next weekend will be the ninth team to do so in Super Rugby history.

“We felt all year we had to work hard to get to the position we did tonight,” Waratahs captain Dave Dennis said. “But we got beaten by a better team.

“They played well, they kicked well tactically and put us under pressure and we put ourselves under a lot of pressure as well.”
Rob Horne scores a try for the Waratahs despite Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo getting in his face. Photo: AFP
There were five lead changes in the match in Sydney and the game may have pivoted around the penalty try the Highlanders were awarded in the 57th minute. South African referee Craig Joubert decided after watching several television replays that Highlanders winger Patrick Osborne had been prevented from scoring by an illegal, swinging arm tackle by Waratahs flanker Jacques Potgeiter.

But the referee compounded what appeared an extreme response to a relatively minor incident by sending Potgeiter to the sin-bin as well. The penalty try and conversion gave the Highlanders a 27-17 lead, their first comfortable lead of the match, and they were able to relax and ease to victory with a drop goal to fly-half Lima Sopoaga and a late try by Osborne.

Until then, the match had been very much in the balance. The Highlanders had kept the Waratahs pinned within their own half with an effective kicking game while the Waratahs struggled to overcome a malfunctioning line-out and their own wayward tactical kicking.

The lead had changed three times before half-time, when the Highlanders were leading 15-14

“We know how hard it is to play over here against the Waratahs and we got it right tonight,” said Highlanders captain Ben Smith.

The Hurricanes scored four tries at home in Wellington – including one each for brothers Julian and Ardie Savea, and the 11th try of the season to scrum-half TJ Perenara – in their convincing win over two-time champions ACT Brumbies.

The Brumbies had the best defensive record of any team in the regular season and, while the Hurricanes threw everything against them, it took 21 minutes before the defence broke down to allow the opening try by Julian Savea.

All Blacks winger Nehe Milner-Skudder was a constant threat and came close to scoring several times before creating a try for Perenara in the 29th minute.

Ardie Savea opened the second half by getting over the line from a rolling maul – insulting Brumbies pride after they had made rolling mauls a big part of their success this season.

The Hurricanes capped their win with a late try from Matt Proctor, who replaced Milner-Skudder on the right wing at half-time.