Dan McKellar said for the Brumbies to knock over the Blues at Eden Park they would have to shut down Beauden Barrett.
“If he’s a nine out of 10 on Saturday, we’re not winning,” McKellar said. “He’s got to be very bland, very beige.”
Unfortunately for the Brumbies, Barrett was as close to a 10 as possible as the two-time World Rugby player of the year led the Blues to the Super Rugby final with a nail-biting 20-19 win.
The Brumbies had a golden opportunity to steal the match at the death, but playmaker Noah Lolesio opted for a long-range field goal attempt despite having 35 seconds left on the clock to work towards a penalty.
Instead, the Blues charged the kick down and the home side snuck home.
Nonetheless, the Brumbies had reason to feel aggrieved.
The Blues were shown two yellow cards in the second half, but both should have been red cards if precedent is anything to go by.
Andy Murihead was driven into the ground in a decision that Barrett described as “silly”, while Tom Wright was also run into head first during a tackle.
But more than any other officiating call, the decision by New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe not to reward Luke Reimer’s breakdown effort with a penalty in the final seconds will be debated and lamented.
The replacement openside flanker got on the ball and should have been rewarded with a penalty even though the visitors managed to eventually get the ball back.
After a terrible finish to the first half where all the momentum was with the home side, McKellar’s side came storming back into the contest with a wet sail, scoring 12 unanswered points off the back of two tries to hooker Lachlan Lonergan to give the game a grandstand finish.
But the Brumbies weren’t able to seize the moment, as the Blues snuck home to seal a home final where they will face the Crusaders at Eden Park.
“We knew that it was going to take a helluva effort for us to come out here and to get the job done,” Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa said.
“We showed a lot of heart there in the second half.
“We gave ourselves the opportunity to win the game but didn’t quite ice it at the end. Just pretty disappointed.”
Barrett, who won a Super Rugby title with the Hurricanes in 2016, is now just one match away from leading the Blues to their first fully-fledged title since Carlos Spencer and Doug Howlett dazzled back in 2003.
The All Blacks playmaker was at the heart of everything for the Blues, setting up tries with his direct running and saving them in defence too with his exceptional sweeping ability.
“I’ve got a lot of trust in the lads, but I’ve got to give it to them (the Brumbies),” Barrett said.
“We could have easily run away with that one, but we knew we had to fight hard and work hard to close that out.
“They’re a quality outfit the Brumbies and we knew that it’d go for the full 80, and they didn’t disappoint.”
The semi-final exit was the final involvement for McKellar as coach, with the Brumbies mentor handing the keys to the castle back to Stephen Larkham as the mentor joins the Wallabies on a full-time basis.
Others like Irae Simone, who scored the opening try of the match in the third minute, as well as Scott Sio and Test fullback Tom Banks will also leave the Brumbies.
After Simone gave the Brumbies the perfect start by running over opposition fullback Stephen Perofeta to score, the Brumbies were smashed at the breakdown and at the scrum in the first half.
Their early lead was cut down by Perofeta’s boot, but the Brumbies also let chances slip through their fingers.
After being held up over the goal-line with a big overlap out wide, flanker Tom Hooper dropped the line dropkick cold as he nursed his injured shoulder.
The moment summed up the Brumbies first half and handed all the momentum to the Blues who scored two tries in 12 minutes to Hoskins Sotutu and Mark Telea to open up a 13-point lead at half-time.
After a slow start to the second half where the rain came flooding down, the Brumbies eventually made their opponents pay for Kurt Eklund’s spear tackle.
But time was the Brumbies’ worst enemy and eventually the anxiety told, as Lolesio pulled the trigger too early as All Blacks prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi made the all-important charge down..
“Huge, it’s those sort of moments that you’ve got to be alive for and look for and his edge is exceptional, and we needed the big fella to stand up at that moment,” Barrett said.
A heartbroken Alaalatoa paid tribute to the Brumbies’ fight, but summed it up when he said they couldn’t “ice it”.
“We kept it pretty simple in the second half,” he said.
“We spoke about the collisions, set-piece, and I thought our set-piece really brought us home in the second half.
“I thought the boys showed a lot of heart, especially in the last five minutes.”
Dave Rennie will name the Wallabies’ 35-man squad in Sydney on Sunday ahead of their three-match Test series against England.