Blues beat Brumbies 20-19 in the second Super Rugby Pacific semi-final at Eden Park, Auckland.
The Blues booked their place in another Super Rugby final against the Crusaders after edging the Brumbies in the City of Sails.
The Blues continued their unbeaten run throughout the playoffs to make it 15 wins on the spin.
Leon MacDonald’s sublime side has only lost one game this season, a one-point defeat to the Hurricanes in Round 2 of Super Rugby Pacific.
MacDonald’s men will take on Scott Robertson’s all-conquering Crusaders.
The 10-time champions reached their record 15th Super Rugby final (They have also played in two Super Rugby Aotearoa finals) after beating the Chiefs in Christchurch in the first semi-final.
This was no cakewalk. The Auckland men had to hold on at the death after two yellow cards allowed the Canberra side to score twice.
The Blues scored 20 unanswered points to take a 20-7 lead at the break after the visitor’s early score.
The Brumbies opened the scoring, but ill-discipline saw the hosts cut the gap to one before pulling away with two tries of their own to end the half with a 13-point lead.
Kurt Eklund and Adrian Choat’s second stanza yellow cards cost the Blues 12 points to set up a thrilling end to an enthralling trans-Tasman contest.
The Aussies kept the Kiwis scoreless after the break but could not get over the line.
The three-time Super Rugby champions managed to hold on for the slender win to set up an all-New Zealand Grand Final next Saturday at Eden Park.
Hoskins Sotutu and Mark Telea scored for the home team, while Stephen Perofeta landed two penalties and conversions apiece (10 pts).
Beauden Barrett, captaining for the injured Dalton Papalii, missed a late drop-kick on the stroke of halftime.
It was, however, Noah Lolesio’s missed second conversion that ultimately the difference in the end.
Irae Simone and Lachlan Lonergan crossed for the Australians, while Noah Lolesio added two conversions.
Lonergan bagged a second-half brace to pull the visitors within one point with less than two minutes to play as the two-time champions looked for an improbable comeback win at the famous old ground.
It was not for Dan McKellar’s valiant team, who fell short after Ofa Tuungafasi charged down Lolesio’s last-gasp drop-goal attempt to see the Blues home.
The Brumbies strike first but the Blues hit back twice to take a commanding 20-7 halftime lead into the shed
The New Zealand outfit had won their last 11 Super Rugby games against Australian opponents, but they got off to the worst start when the visitors scored three minutes after the kick-off.
Simone got the ball rolling for the visitors with a sublime score from a scrum after running through Perofeta.
The 26-year-old centre went route one, bursting through Perofeta before speeding to the try line.
Lolesio converted before Perofeta landed two shots at goal to make it a one-point game in the 21st-minute.
The Blues broke the game open when Sotutu finished off a slick counter-attack. Telea crossed before the break to open up a two-score advantage.
Perofeta’s midfield break and offload to Tom Robinson began the move. Rieko Ioane carried into the 22 to set up some quick ball to Barrett.
Barrett beat a couple of defenders before popping to Telea. Sotutu picked up at the ruck, slipped a tackle and swivelled his way out of Lolesio’s tackle and over the line.
With six minutes remaining before the break, the Kiwis struck another blow.
Telea finished off a stunning attack started by Perofeta and AJ Lam. Christie carried forward before Barrett’s offload in the tackle put the 25-year-old winger away.
Perofeta added both conversions. Barrett’s long-range drop-kick rebounded off the crossbar to end the half.
Kurt Eklund’s yellow card saw the Brumbies find momentum and get themselves back into the contest after the interval
The Brumbies struggled to get their maul going and their lineout was shaky all game. Several opportunities were missed as the ACT men floundered.
Eklund went to the naughty step after a tip-tackle to swing momentum in McKellar’s side’s favour. Barrett’s try-saving tackle kept out Tom Wright.
The Aussies made their extra man count, scoring before the hour mark.
Wright was held up by Perofeta and Telea, but the visitors had an advantage for offside.
The Brumbies had scored nine tries from mauls, the most by any team in the competition.
It seemed the set-piece was the only way they were going to cross because the Blues’ defence was rock solid.
Lachlan Lonergan flopped over the whitewash after the Brumbies finally got their driving maul going. Lolesio could not convert.
Barrett almost struck soon after the restart; however, the flyhalf had the ball knocked forward out of his hands by Wright as Barrett slid over the chalk.
Sefo Kautai won an important penalty which allowed the Brumbies to go to the corner.
Tom Robinson collapsed the maul before winning the lineout steal from the next lineout after the Brumbies went to the corner again.
Choat went off with five to play for a high tackle on Wright, who slipped into the flanker’s tackle.
The capital team went to the corner, winning another penalty after Alex Hodgman’s infringement saw Barrett get a talking to for repeated penalties.
This time, the maul could not be stopped. Darcy Swain gathered, the forwards wrapped around the lock and powered their way over the chalk.
Lonergan got up with the ball and Lolesio converted to set up a nervy ending.
The hosts won a turnover with seconds remaining, but the tourists won the ball back at the ruck.
As the clock ticked down, McKellar’s men needed something special.
Lolesio dropped into the pocket; however, Tuungafasi – of all players – charged down the standoff’s drop-kick to seal the game for the Blues.
Final Score: Blues 20 (20) Brumbies 19 (7)
Tries – Sotutu, Telea
Pen – Perofeta (2)
Con – Perofeta (2)
Cards – Eklund (Yellow, 53′), Choat (Yellow, 75′)
Tries – Simone, L. Lonergan (2)
Con – Lolesio (2)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 1: Angus Gardner
Assistant Ref 2: Stu Curran
TMO: Shane McDermott
Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 AJ Lam, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Beauden Barrett (captain), 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Adrian Choat, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Tom Robinson, 4 Josh Goodhue, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Luke Romano, 20 James Tucker, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Tamati Tua, 23 Zarn Sullivan.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Ollie Sapsfor, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Andy Muirhead, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valentini, 7 Pete Samu, 6 Tom Hooper, 5 Caderyn Neville, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Sefo Kautai, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Luke Reimer, 21 Jahrome Brown, 22 Ryan Lonergan, 23 Hudson Creighton.