Joe Rokocoko scored two tries Saturday as the Auckland Blues thrashed the ACT Brumbies 42-21 to earn the right to host defending champion Canterbury Crusaders in the Super 12 final.
The Blues staggered the Brumbies, former champions and finalists last year, with three first half tries for a 22-0 lead at the break.
The Brumbies rallied with two tries early in the second half to reduce the margin to 22-14 before the Blues, who finished atop the standings at 10-1 after the regular season, regained control.
"The guys in the midfield were outstanding tonight and it's easy to score tries when you're on the end of that," Rokocoko said. "We've worked hard on our defense all week and that was a big part of the game. We knew how hard the Brumbies would be but we managed to shut them down."
The Blues scored six tries but it was the defense that stunned the understrength Brumbies.
Rokocoko said former Wales coach Graham Henry had played a major part in assembling the Blues' defensive screen.
"Graham's a big part of the team and especially this week he showed us how we had to defend. We knew the Brumbies would be tough, doubling up on the blindside and he enabled us to face up to that threat."
With chief playmaker Steve Larkham sidelines, the Brumbies were unable to establish the continuity of possession which is the hallmark of their game.
"We didn't execute the way we wanted to and in the end that cost us," said Brumbies scrumhalf and captain George Gregan. "They clicked and executed really well in the first half. By halftime it was pretty much out of our hands.
"We tried everything but they were big enough and strong enough to cope with that."
The Blues took a heavy blow ahead of the final when All Blacks halfback, Australian-born Steve Devine was carried from the field minutes from halftime with a severe concussion.
Devine, prop Kees Meeuws and Rokocoko had crossed for tries in the first half.