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Thirteen down, one to go. The Brumbies say there’s no way anyone can argue they’re not worthy Super Rugby champions if they win Saturday’s final in Hamilton against the Chiefs – the only team they haven’t met this season.
It will be the first time since the conference system was introduced in 2011 that a Super Rugby side has played every other team in the competition.
The Brumbies didn’t play the Cheetahs and the Chiefs in the regular season.
But they eliminated South Africa’s Cheetahs in a home quarter-final and Brumbies coach Jake White welcomes the fact the final is against the ladder-topping Chiefs.
“That’s exactly what I think the organisers wanted to have, and even though it’s a conference system, you can genuinely call yourself champions,” White said.
As opposed to the old round robin system where every team played each other once before the finals, the three conference system means double the local derbies and just eight international games each in the regular season.
When the Queensland Reds won the title in 2011 some New Zealand and South African fans argued that a weaker Australian conference gifted them the minor premiership and an advantageous home finals run.
But the Brumbies put paid to that by slipping to finish third overall while topping the Australian conference this year.
It meant they faced back to back away finals matches against the best sides both South Africa and New Zealand had to offer, beating the odds to down the Bulls in their Pretoria fortress in the semi-finals last weekend.
The enormity of the task and travel factor is not lost on assistant Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham.
“Last week was a massive challenge as it doesn’t get any bigger than (the Bulls) at Loftus Versfeld,” he said.
“And now we are in New Zealand to play the Chiefs who just knocked out the Crusaders – arguably the form team coming into the finals.”
To make matters more difficult, the Chiefs were able to name an unchanged team on Thursday as they aim to send departing players Craig Clarke, Lelia Masaga, Toby Smith, Richard Kahui and Brendon Leonard all off back-to-back title wins.
But White believes his side is up to the task.
“This Brumbies team has exceeded all expectations,” he said.
“It never ceases to amaze me that when they get a challenge, they present themselves perfectly.”