Kiwi teams go head to head for Super Rugby glory
THE Super Rugby premiership drought will end for either the Hurricanes or Highlanders on Saturday after they saw off their Australian opponents in the semi-finals.
The Hurricanes overwhelmed the Brumbies 29-9 in Wellington, before the Highlanders pulled clear late to eliminate defending champions the Waratahs 35-17 in Sydney, setting up the fifth all-New Zealand final.
The closest the Highlanders came to winning the title was in 1999 when they lost the decider to the Crusaders, while the Hurricanes went down to the same opponent at the fog-ruined final at Lancaster Park in 2006 in the last all-Kiwi finale.
The semi-final results were a victory for enterprising rugby, with the winners having averaged nearly four tries and 30 points per game during the regular season.
The Highlanders' largely no-name forward pack has answered most challenges thrown its way this season, allowing an exciting backline the space needed to cut through opposition defences.
They thoroughly out-muscled and out-skilled the Waratahs in front on a big Sydney crowd on Saturday night, with livewire halfback Aaron Smith (pictured) producing an outstanding game.
The Waratahs took the lead shortly after half-time though after a Bernard Foley penalty, but an error-riddled second half, coming on top of a poor lineout in the first half, saw the home side consistently cough up possession.
While the Highlanders will go in as underdogs, the Hurricanes have a couple of injury concerns following their comprehensive victory over the Brumbies.
Openside flanker Ardie Savea, who has been a revelation this season and was again outstanding against the Brumbies, is in doubt with a knee injury, while exciting young winger Nehe Milner-Skudder also appeared to pick up a leg injury.
Forced to play consecutive finals in South Africa and New Zealand after finishing sixth, the Brumbies were left rueing four close losses during the season which ultimately cost them a week off and a home final.
RESULTS: Hurricanes 29 (J Savea, T Perenara, A Savea, M Proctor tries; J Marshall 2, B Barrett cons; J Marshall pen) def Brumbies 9 (C Lealiifano 2, J Mogg pens) at Westpac Stadium.
Highlanders 35 (A Smith, R Buckman, W Naholo, penalty try, P Osborne tries; L Sopoaga 2 cons, pen, field goal) def Waratahs 17 (R Horne try; B Foley 4 pens) at Allianz Stadium.