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SYDNEY, July 20 (Reuters) - Having ended the Waikato Chiefs' two-year reign as Super Rugby champions, the ACT Brumbies will head up to Sydney next week determined to knock the New South Wales Waratahs off their perch in the semi-finals.
Victory at Sydney Football Stadium next Saturday would put the Brumbies in the final for the second successive season and set up a meeting with the Canterbury Crusaders or South Africa's Sharks, who meet in the other last-four clash in Christchurch.
It would also give the twice-champions a chance to avenge the 39-8 defeat to their fierce rivals at the same ground three weeks ago which ensured the Waratahs would top the Australian conference.
"To say we're excited about that is an understatement, it's going to be a cracker," enthused Brumbies captain Ben Mowen after the tight 32-30 win over the Chiefs in Canberra.
"They've been the best side all year round, that's why they finished number one, and taking them on in their own back yard is the best challenge in Super Rugby this year."
The Waratahs have indeed set the pace in Super Rugby this year but the Brumbies showed in their hard-fought victory over the Chiefs that they have some impressive offensive weapons of their own and they are now prepared to use them.
Nic White confirmed he is the form scrumhalf in Australian rugby this year, while the back three of Robbie Coleman, Jesse Mogg and especially Fijian winger Henry Speight have the power and pace to threaten any defence.
Mowen said they would be unlikely to back away from the expansive game they have showcased in their last couple of games when they take on the Waratahs.
"We've been working hard on (it) over the last couple of months," added Mowen. "It's exciting to play and when you keep getting results like that, you've got to keep backing it."
Allied with uncompromising forward play and game management imbued into the squad by former coach Jake White, the Brumbies have shown enough to suggest the Waratahs will not necessarily have things their own way.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika will, though, have been encouraged by the way the Chiefs, who were 22-3 down after half an hour, worked their way back to parity in the contest after Speight was sin-binned at the start of the second half.
Former World Cup-winning Springbok coach White, meanwhile, is now just one match away from leading two different sides to the Super Rugby final in consecutive years after his Sharks came from behind to defeat the Otago Highlanders 31-27 in Durban.
They will have to do it the hard way, though, with the long trip to New Zealand to face the seven-times champion Crusaders.
With Frans Steyn's place-kicking the Sharks will always have a chance but the Crusaders' backs, and in particular winger Nemani Nadolo, will have been licking their lips watching the Highlanders rip through the home defence on Saturday.
The Sharks, finalists two years ago, have plenty of experience of playoff rugby - Saturday's match will be their eighth semi-final - and beat the Crusaders 30-25 in Christchurch in May.
Owners of the most miserly defence in Super Rugby, the Sharks make no secret of their gameplan but suffocating the Crusaders at home twice in one season is a tall order. (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)