Hurricanes v Brumbies
Coach Jake White of the Brumbies looks on during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Brumbies at Westpac Stadium on May 18, 2012 in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images
The ACT Brumbies can officially start dreaming about a drought-breaking finals berth after the youngest side in Super Rugby secured one of the most determined wins of the season last night.
In a gutsy and defiant performance, the new generation Brumbies battled an icy wind, rain and hail to beat the Wellington Hurricanes 37-25 at Westpac Stadium.
It edges them closer to something even the staunchest believer thought impossible at the start of the campaign - a spot in the finals.
And coach Jake White will prepare his team for a ''final'' against the Queensland Reds at Canberra Stadium next weekend with a victory set to almost guarantee it a rise into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Their bonus-point triumph over the Hurricanes lifted the Brumbies 13 points clear of the defending champion Reds at the top of the Australian conference.
The Reds play the Johannesburg Lions tonight and with just five games left in the regular season, the blockbuster clash in the capital will likely decide which Australian team gets the guaranteed spot in the top three.
''Expectations will rise, but it's nothing these guys haven't been able to handle in the last couple of games,'' White said. ''The reality is [the Reds clash] is the final because it would be an eight-point swing [if they win] because they've got the bye the week after. I think it's fantastic, it's a home final and it's something we haven't experienced.
''This group will get another challenge and that's what you want to play rugby for, this is what we've been working for because we want to play the champions at home and give ourselves a fair crack.
''There are a lot of people elated in the changeroom … there's nothing greater than rugby when you don't play well but you still get a win.''
White has transformed the Brumbies from last season's rabble into championship contenders.
He's aware his team is no longer the underdog despite his inexperienced roster, and expectations will soar after it beat the Hurricanes.
In just 11 games the Brumbies have erased last year's pain with a series of impressive performances.
White's men have:
■ Become the most successful Brumbies team in a decade on a two-game tour of South Africa;
■ Won in Wellington for the first time since 2003, and the first time in New Zealand in three years;
■ The first Brumbies team to win three games in a row since the start of 2010;
■ Secured eight bonus points already - the most since 2004, and;
■ Almost doubled last season's total number of wins.
And all that with the most unheralded squad in the competition.
But with expectation rising, the Brumbies are determined not to plateau and to push on to achieve an unexpected rise to the top.
Their effort against the Hurricanes was one of the most impressive of the season. Not because of their play. In fact, skipper Ben Mowen freely admitted his side was ''pretty ordinary'' for most of the contest.
But in woeful conditions and with a rookie flyhalf, the Brumbies fought back from an nine-point deficit to charge to a 12-point win.
The Hurricanes had the game in their hands when they scored their fourth try and starved the Brumbies of ball for almost 40 minutes.
But the Brumbies showed grit and patience well beyond their years to clinch a win with a three-try burst in 15 minutes. Playmaker Zack Holmes was a standout in his run-on debut, scoring 22 points and crossing for the match-winning try 10 minutes before full-time.
''We're aware that's not a performance that will win us the comp, but it's a win,'' Mowen said.
''It is a final for us next week, the Reds are almost back to their best, we'll need a strong crowd and a huge performance. That's something we're extremely excited about.''