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Highlanders knock Brumbies out of finals

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 22/07/2016 Roje Adaimy
Waisake Naholo of the Highlanders celebrates victory following the Super Rugby Quarterfinal match between the Brumbies and the Highlanders at GIO Stadium on July 22, 2016 in Canberra, Australia. © Getty Images Waisake Naholo of the Highlanders celebrates victory following the Super Rugby Quarterfinal match between the Brumbies and the Highlanders at GIO Stadium on July 22, 2016 in Canberra, Australia.

Australia will be without a team in the Super Rugby semi-finals for the first time in four years, with the Brumbies beaten 15-9 by the Highlanders in the opening quarter-final.

The ACT franchise had several chances on Friday night to steal victory in the dying minutes but the defending champions held on to snap a decade-long losing streak at a slippery GIO Stadium.

It marked the end of the Brumbies' 2016 campaign and time at the club for a number of players - including co-captain Stephen Moore, playmaker Matt Toomua and David Pocock.

Moore is heading back to the Queensland Reds next season, while Toomua is joining English outfit Leicester and Pocock is beginning a 12-month sabbatical.

Winger Joe Tomane, who remains injured, is also leaving for France.

Not since they missed the playoffs in 2012 have the Brumbies failed to advance beyond the first week of the finals, and Australia are left without a title contender.

Stephen Larkham's men were kept tryless by the Highlanders, who - despite being restricted by the wet and windy conditions - scored a try in each half via winger Waisake Naholo and No.8 Liam Squire.

The Brumbies were denied a potentially match-winning effort in the 75th minute, with the TMO finding insufficient evidence to award Lausii Taliauli a five-pointer.

Their points came only from a trio of penalty goals by Christian Lealiifano.

The Highlanders came out to a flying start but the conditions quickly put a dampener on proceedings.

A slew of dropped balls, wayward kicks and penalties denied both sides a chance to play some free-flowing rugby.

It initially worked in the Brumbies' favour, with the hosts taking a 6-3 lead off a pair of penalty goals despite a lack of possession and field position.

The Highlanders snatched it back, though, with a converted try to Naholo in the 37th minute and had Matt Toomua sent to the sin-bin for repeated offences close to the line.

Just one point separated the sides until the 57th minute, when Squire's try sealed the victory.

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