The ACT Brumbies have fired a warning shot to their Super Rugby rivals, thumping two-time defending champions the Waikato Chiefs in a grand final re-match on Friday night.
Brumbies thump the Chiefs
The Brumbies have held onto top spot in the Australian conference.
But Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen has warned his team to temper celebrations, declaring the only way to avenge last season's grand final defeat is to win this year's title.
The Brumbies unleashed a second-half attacking onslaught to beat the Chiefs 41-23 at Canberra Stadium, their first win against the New Zealanders since 2011.
Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani scored two tries each and winger Joseph Tomane showed some acrobatic skills to propel the Brumbies to a critical bonus-point win.
It was the perfect start to a five-week stretch of matches capable of making or breaking the Brumbies' championship dreams as they play the Canterbury Crusaders, Jake White's Durban Sharks and go on a two-game tour of South Africa.
Mowen was reluctant to get carried away with a five-try victory against the injury-ravaged Chiefs.
The Brumbies are targeting a top two finish this year to avoid the massive travel schedule associated with slipping down the ladder and have won four games in a row at home for the first time since 2010.
"To be honest, it's a round game. We want to win a championship because that's what wipes out a lost championship," Mowen said.
"We're nowhere near that yet. It's a great win, but we'll park it tonight and then move on to next week."
The Brumbies are second on the ladder and lead the Australian conference after the NSW Waratahs stumbled against the Auckland Blues on Friday night.
Perhaps the most crucial element is the Brumbies being able to put a team to the sword and capitalise on their dominance with a bonus point.
Despite scoring 27 tries in seven wins this season, the Brumbies have only secured two four-try bonus points.
Toomua scored his first career double and starred in the Brumbies' back-line, his outstanding defensive effort earning praise from director of rugby Laurie Fisher.
Toomua is staking his claim for the Wallabies playmaking duties for the June Test series against France and Australian coach Ewen McKenzie was in Canberra for the Chiefs game.
"We're not big on saying too much. We came second last year but we'd like to think we can be around the pointy end," Toomua said.
"There are so many games to go, you've got to get to the finals first. It was huge to get this win. Any team can turn up each week but if you lose one next week and you're back to square one."
The Brumbies face a back-line selection headache with winger Henry Speight getting closer to a return and Christian Lealiifano and Pat McCabe competing for the inside centre duties.
Powerhouse No. 8 Fotu Auelua is in contention to return from a knee injury against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said his side was "out-passioned and outmuscled" with the Brumbies intent on easing the pain of last season's defeat.
The Chiefs have won just one of their past five games, but temporarily hold on to the top spot in the New Zealand conference.
"If we play with the right energy levels we can roll anyone," Rennie said.
"We have to be a hell of a lot better, there's no doubt about that. We're all frustrated ... tonight we got outplayed but we're certainly not panicking."
Toomua's try lifted the Brumbies to a 13-6 half-time lead, but the Brumbies dropped the ball four times, the Chiefs coughed up eight turnovers and both teams missed seven tackles.
The Brumbies got further in front when the backs showed brilliant hands and Tomane got the ball down with some superb acrobatics to score in the corner.
It was a crucial moment with the game in the balance.
Jesse Mogg's pass to Tomane appeared to go forward, but unclear camera angles worked in the Brumbies' favour to give them a lucky break.
Chiefs reserve James Lowe was sent to the sin bin in the second half for tripping Tomane as the Brumbies closed in on victory.
The Chiefs started to implode with the game all but gone, botching two kick-offs and losing their way before they hit back with two late tries to reserves Brad Weber and Josh Hohneck.
AT A GLANCE
ACT BRUMBIES 41 (Tevita Kuridrani 2, Matt Toomua 2, Joseph Tomane tries; Christian Lealiifano 2, Nic White 2 penalties; Christian Lealiifano, Nic White conversions) bt WAIKATO CHIEFS 23 (Brad Weber, Josh Hohneck tries; Gareth Anscombe 3 penalties; Andrew Horrell 2 conversions) at Canberra Stadium on Friday night. Referee: Steve Walsh. Crowd: 16,159.