Attacking brilliance from Beauden Barrett carried the Auckland Blues to a desperate 20-19 semi-final win over the ACT Brumbies on Saturday, setting up an all-New Zealand Super Rugby Pacific decider against the Canterbury Crusaders.
After conceding an early try to the Australian visitors, the Blues dominated the middle stages of the game before barely holding on over the closing minutes to record a 15th successive victory.
The top-qualifying Blues will return to Eden Park next week chasing their first full Super Rugby title since 2003 but they must overcome the competition’s most decorated team in the final, after the Crusaders beat the Chiefs 20-7 in Christchurch on Friday.
Blues captain and All Blacks Test playmaker Barrett was comfortably the game’s standout performer, defying slippery conditions to unleash his full array of skills, whether it was running, offloading or kicking.
He played a key hand in both his team’s tries, as they turned a 0-7 deficit into a 20-7 halftime lead.
The Brumbies lifted again in the second spell, creating two tries off lineout drives — both to reserve hooker Lachlan Lonergan — taking advantage on each occasion of the Blues having been reduced to 14 men through yellow cards for dangerous tackles.
A late push for victory was foiled when a dropped goal attempt from Noah Lolesio was charged down by Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi with a minute remaining on the clock.
It was tension-filled finish to the five-year head coaching tenure of Dan McKellar, who first signed with the Brumbies in 2014.