The Brumbies' Super Rugby season petered out at Canberra Stadium on Friday night with a 21-point loss to the Highlanders, but Dan McKellar's men still finished as the best-performed Australian side in Trans Tasman.
All Black Aaron Smith put on a clinic in the nation's capital, scoring two tries - his first on Australian soil in five years - and willing his side to a bonus-point win which put the Highlanders in the box seat to contest the first Trans Tasman final.
They'll likely be up against either the Crusaders of Blues next weekend, depending on how other results fall this weekend.
"A lot of young players got an opportunity tonight at Super Rugby level, you can't fault their effort of the effort of the group to be honest," McKellar said.
"We just turned over too much ball which against any New Zealand side they're going to hurt you.
"Smith controlled the game and the territory battle, they won that."
McKellar said there were plenty of positives to take out of a unique Super Rugby season.
"I'm pleased that over the course of this competition we've been able to expose some good young boys who are the future of our club into this competition and this level," McKellar said.
"And they understand when they're going to do another preseason what's required.
"We had the disappointment of the grand final and the Super Rugby AU comp ,that was tough to take.
"We came into this comp pretty bruised and battered, missing a few of our senior players which provided opportunities.
"There's a line in the sand now we know we have a lot of improvement within us, we've got to review our season our performance really thoroughly and understand if we come back here in February next year and compete against the New Zealand sides, we've got to be better. It's as simple as that."
Smith gathered his charges in an on-field huddle before heading into the sheds for half-time with his side leading 14-12 and needing to score at least three more tries for a precious bonus point.
He laid down the law and the classy visitors responded after the break scoring the three tries they needed, and holding off a late Brumbies' raid to surge to the top of the Trans Tasman standings.
For all the Highlanders' prowess, McKellar's side still gave Brumbies fans some highlights to take with them into the off season.
Lachlan Lonergan burrowed over late in the first half off the back of a powerful Brumbies lineout maul where almost every one of his teammates chimed in to drive him over the line.
That followed a Len Ikitau try in the left corner which opened the scoring, but the Brumbies didn't trouble the scorers' after that.
They finished equal on points with the Super Rugby AU champion Queensland Reds, but one position higher on the ladder given their superior for and against, helped substantially by Reds' heavy loss to the Hurricanes earlier on Friday.
The Brumbies will now go and unwind from an ultimately frustrating season before the Wallabies' squad for three Tests against France next month is named on Sunday afternoon.
Newly named Wallabies assistant McKellar will likely have plenty of familiar faces to work with in his new role.
But before that they'll debrief a season during which they lost their Super Rugby AU crown to the Reds by the barest of margins, and during which they were beaten by four of the five Kiwi teams.
Bayley Kuenzle, Mack Hansen, Reesjan Pasitoa and Isaak Fines have played their last games for the club, but McKellar will still be confident he has a squad capable of making serious waves next season should the two Super Rugby competitions merge once more.
It started slowly in chilly conditions at Canberra Stadium, before Ikitau grabbed his second try in two weeks finishing off a short-side backline flurry.
But the Highlanders hit back almost immediately, when Ash Dixon did his job at the base of the visitors' rolling maul off another strong lineout.
SUPER RUGBY TRANS TASMAN ROUND 5
Highlanders 33 (Smith 2, Dixon, Harmon, Tomkinson tries, Hunt 4 conv) def Brumbies 12 (Ikitau, L Lonergan tries, Kuenzle conv) at Canberra Stadium