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In-form Brumbies, Hurricanes book Super Rugby semi spots

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Canberra (AFP)

A clinical Brumbies crushed the Sharks Saturday to book a Super Rugby semi-final date with the Jaguares, while the Hurricanes clung on to beat the Bulls and set up a showdown with the Crusaders.

On a freezing night, the Australian conference winners won their eighth match in a row at Canberra Stadium by taming the Durban-based Coastal Sharks 38-13 to end South Africa's interest in the competition.

It sets up a difficult last four clash in Buenos Aires next weekend against a Pumas-heavy Jaguares, who reached the semis for the first time on Friday with a 21-16 home victory over the Waikato Chiefs.

Nine-time champions Canterbury Crusaders will host the second semi-final after overwhelming Otago Highlanders 38-14 to reinforce their status as favourites for a third consecutive title.

Fellow New Zealanders Wellington Hurricanes stand in their way after a narrow 35-28 victory against the Northern Bulls, with four tries apiece and only two penalties by Jordie Barrett keeping their noses in front.

But it is an ominous task for the 'Canes with the Crusaders unbeaten in a playoff at Christchurch since Super Rugby launched in 1996 -- a sequence of 22 matches.

The ACT Brumbies, who have won nine of their past 10 games, are angling for a third Super Rugby crown and first since 2004, with tries from Pete Samu (2), Henry Speight, Joe Powell and Matt Lucas keeping them on track.

"I'm really proud, I thought the Sharks threw a lot at us at various times," said captain Christian Lealiifano.

"The way the boys just connect for each other and dig deep was really special to see tonight in front of our home fans. The boys have been amazing all year."

They got a sensational start with Samu running 35 metres to score barely 60 seconds into the match. A set-piece from a lineout put them further in front with Speight dotting down and Lealiifano converting both tries.

Two penalty kicks from Curwin Bosch, one a huge effort from the half-way line, kept the Sharks in touch, but a second converted try from Samu on a rolling maul sent them into the break with a 24-6 lead.

The momentum shifted in the second stanza with centre Andre Esterhuizen driving over for a converted Sharks try on 56 minutes to close the gap as the Brumbies desperately defended.

But with nine minutes left scrum-half Joe Powell spotted a gap and dashed 30 metres for the home team's fourth try before Lucas sealed the win in the dying seconds.

- To the wire -

In Wellington, replacement back Salesi Rayasi was the Hurricanes' hero-turned-villain with two tries as they shot to a 29-14 lead before being sent to the sin-bin which sparked a late Bulls revival.

"It was play-offs footy. The first half was good and then they came back in the second half and it went down to the wire," a relieved 'Canes captain Dane Coles said.

"There were a couple of big moments in that second half, obviously the sin-binning. We dropped the ball and they scored points. The little mistakes can have a massive effect."

The under-sized Hurricanes pack held their own as they steadily built a lead.

TJ Perenara, Ben Lam and Rayasi scored tries, all converted by Beauden Barrett, as they turned 24-14 ahead with the Bulls points from tries to Warrick Gelant and Cornel Hendricks, both converted by Handre Pollard.

But after Rayasi scored his second just after the resumption, the Bulls pack used their superior size to win a penalty try from a deliberate knockdown by Rayasi, which saw him yellow carded.

After Jordie Barrett booted his first penalty, the Pretoria-based Bulls closed within four points when Hendricks crashed over for his second try.

Once Barrett kicked his second, to create a seven-point margin, the giant RG Snyman stole a Hurricane's lineout after the final hooter. But the Bulls bid for a converted try to force the match into overtime ended when Hendricks knocked on.

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