The reigning champion Highlanders held on for a 15-9 victory over the ACT Brumbies on a wet and windy night in Canberra to become the first team to reach the Super Rugby semi-finals.
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Tries either side of halftime from winger Waisake Naholo and number eight Liam Squire and five points from the boot of flyhalf Lima Sopoaga were enough to send the Highlanders into the last four and end Australian interest in the competition.
The Brumbies had three penalties from flyhalf Christian Lealiifano but struggled for penetration in attack and were unable to convert the few chances they created into tries, even when camped on the Highlanders line for the last seven minutes.
"It was always going to be tough coming over here and we're stoked we're into the semi-finals," said Highlanders skipper Shane Christie.
"The whole game was a battle ... the last 15 minutes we just dug in and the boys showed great character."
Conditions more reminiscent of the far south of New Zealand than the Australian capital ensured the contest would not be a great spectacle and it was a Sopoaga interception just before the hour mark that proved decisive.
As the Brumbies, trailing by a point at 10-9, went through a set move from an attacking line-out, the two-cap All Black stole in to snatch the ball before releasing Matt Faddes for a run to the line.
The outside centre did not have enough pace to outrun the cover defence but the Highlanders recycled the ball quickly and Sopoaga and full back Ben Smith got it into the hands of Squire, who crashed over.
Replacement winger Lausii Taliauli thought he had scored a try that would have brought the home side back to within a point with seven minutes left on the clock and a conversion to come, but the TV review official was unable to confirm a grounding.
The Brumbies then laid siege to the visitors' line but were unable to get the ball across it despite a series of attacking scrums and multiple phases.
"Disappointing, we had our chances there at the end but just could not get across the line," said captain Stephen Moore, who was playing his last match for the Brumbies before leaving for Queensland next season.
"It was a tight game in tough conditions but it comes down to those small moments. You've got to take every opportunity and we didn't."