Resolute defence and Beauden Barrett brilliance paved the way for the Wellington Hurricanes into the Super Rugby grand final when they downed the Waikato Chiefs 25-9 in Wellington on Saturday.
They will host the championship decider next Saturday when they take on the winner of the second semi-final to be played in Johannesburg later this weekend between the Golden Lions and the defending champion Otago Highlanders. Barrett contributed 15 points with a try, two conversions and two penalties to get the 'Canes, who have yet to win a title, into the finals for the second consecutive year.
With home ground advantage against a Chiefs side playing away for the fourth consecutive week Willis Halaholo and Victor Vito also scored tries for the Hurricanes who led 15-6 at half-time.
The Chiefs, who spent 12 minutes inside the 'Canes 22 were unable to cross the line and were forced to rely on three Damian McKenzie penalties for their points.
The Hurricanes had sweated all week on the fitness of Dane Coles and waited until 40 minutes from kick off before announcing their influential captain had lost his battle to start after suffering a rib injury last week.
But scrum-half TJ Perenara stepped up to play an influential role in commanding a side that spent much of the game defending and had Barrett in sublime form to make the most of their attacking opportunities.
The focal point before the game was the 9-10 all All Blacks battle which was won by Perenara and Barrett over Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden. The pattern was set with the opening try in the sixth minute when Kerr-Barlow lost the ball in a Perenara tackle.
Barrett mounted a counter attack from near his own 22, recovered his chip kick and when brought down close to the line he flicked to ball to Halaholo for the try.
The Chiefs had a strong period in the middle of the first half when they camped on the Hurricanes line and had multiple opportunities to stamp their mark on the game.
Instead their desire to turn down kickable penalties for possible lineout tries went unrewarded and Perenara knew that was the telling point in the game.
"Defending for about 15 minutes in the first half set the standard for us," he said. "They threw a lot at us and for our boys to be able to step up and make some tackles helped us. It's something we pride ourselves on, defence."
The Hurricanes grim determination to hold out the Chiefs was rewarded when Barrett intercepted a Sam Cane pass and raced nearly 70 metres to score to relieve the pressure.
The Hurricanes will go into the final having not conceded a try in more than 200 minutes of rugby.