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SYDNEY, June 4 (Reuters) - ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham believes his side, who secured the Australian conference title on Saturday, can compete with New Zealand teams in the Super Rugby playoffs.
A 32-3 victory over the Melbourne Rebels, combined with defeat for the New South Waratahs at the hands of the Waikato Chiefs, gave the Canberra-based Brumbies a place in the postseason for a fifth successive year.
They achieved it with a losing record (6-7), however, and without a single victory over one of the New Zealand teams, who have a 23-0 record against Australian sides this year.
Despite that miserable record, Larkham believes the Brumbies are not too far away from the level of their five Trans-Tasman Sea rivals, one of which will almost certainly be visiting the Australian capital in the first round of playoffs.
"We've had a pretty good focus on trying to beat New Zealand teams for a while now," Larkham said in a news conference following Saturday's game.
"We haven't done it for a while but if you look at our games we had the Hurricanes at halftime, we've lost our other ones against New Zealand sides by less than seven points.
"So we're working towards creating a better balanced game and we've been doing that all season. We feel that if we get it right, we should be able to match it with those guys."
The Brumbies have two more regular season matches remaining after the June international window to sharpen their skills before the playoffs -- away to the Queensland Reds and Chiefs.
"It's not about getting to the finals, it's about winning the finals," said Larkham, who will be leaving the club at the end of the season to take a permanent position in the Wallabies set-up.
"We've got to make sure that the push from now until the end of the competition is harder than it's ever been." (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)