Hopes of an all-Australian Super Rugby final could not have been more emphatically dashed.
Outscored nine tries to one by their trans-Tasman rivals, and beaten 64-26 on aggregate, the Brumbies and NSW Waratahs were put to the sword in contrasting ways on Saturday night by the Hurricanes and Highlanders respectively.
The Brumbies were simply outclassed 29-9 in Wellington, while the Waratahs fell 35-17 to a tactically brilliant performance from the Jamie Joseph-coached Highlanders in Sydney.
The efforts from the Kiwi sides have set up an all-New Zealand final in Wellington on Saturday between the table-topping Hurricanes and the Otago-based Highlanders, with both sides chasing a maiden Super Rugby title.
Stephen Larkham’s Brumbies were chasing shadows early in their contest, but somehow managed to get through the opening quarter of the match without conceding a point.
They finally cracked when powerhouse winger Julian Savea barged over for the first of the Hurricanes’ four tries before they had another soon after when halfback TJ Perenara finished a break from winger Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Ardie Savea scored early in the second half before a late try to replacement winger Matt Proctor.
The scoreline didn’t do justice to a dominant performance from the Hurricanes who booked their first home final.
Larkham paid tribute to the Hurricanes and admitted his side could not handle them.
“They seem to have got their whole game right this year, compared to previous years where they probably didn’t have as much control,” Larkham said.
“Like we’ve seen all season, they’re dangerous when they get that turnover ball and we couldn’t contain them.”
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd moved quickly to allay fears over injured pair Milner-Skudder (hamstring) and Ardie Savea (knee), saying both would be fine to play in the final after being replaced early.
Boyd was delighted with his side, but admitted they squandered plenty of opportunities.
“The tempo and just the sheer weight of possession and territory probably counted in the end,” he said.
“We left some points out there but it wasn’t terminal.
“If you play a high risk-and-reward sort of game, then you’ve got to expect you’ll make some mistakes.”
The Waratahs, who had 13 internationals in their starting team compared to the Highlanders’ three, couldn’t find their rhythm as the Kiwi side produced a mixed bag of kicks designed to turn around and tire the big NSW side – it worked a treat.
The Highlanders stole most of the Waratahs’ lineout ball and controlled the tempo of the game for the best part in the five-tries-to-one victory.
“I just think we needed to go up another level,” said Waratahs captain Dave Dennis.
“When we had opportunities, our lineout let us down. We just turned over too much ball on the minimal opportunities we had.”