Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie believes the Hurricanes are good enough to beat the Crusaders in the inaugural Super 14 final.
The Waratahs came unstuck against the Hurricanes for the second successive week, losing 16-14 in their semi-final in Wellington following a 19-14 defeat in Sydney the previous week.
McKenzie highlighted the growing maturity and consistency of the Hurricanes, who held out the Waratahs with only 14 men in Sydney, then backed themselves to take a quick tap and keep possession to wind the clock down in the dying minutes of the semi-final.
"I think they are good enough (to beat the Crusaders). They are playing with a fair bit of maturity and they are certainly well-organised. Colin Cooper, the coach, has done a good job there. They are able to change their game each week which is important," McKenzie said.
"The local derby aspect will come into it but they are certainly a powerful enough side to cause some problems.
"The Crusaders are a terrific side. They are a good side but the Force showed and the Stormers showed they don’t win every game."
The Hurricanes, who reached the play-off stages for the third time four years, have won 10 of their 13 round-robin matches and more importantly won tight matches – 23-19 against the Stormers in Cape Town, 26-23 against the Bulls in Pretoria and 19-14 against the Waratahs in Sydney – that in previous years they would have lost.
While it will be their first appearance in a final, the self-belief and leadership within the group is strong, as the final few minutes of the semi-final revealed.
"I was saying kick it out," Cooper said. "Then I said take a shot at goal and they did a tap.
"We tell them what we think but they are on the field, they run the show and I said to Tana (Umaga), Rodney (So’oialo, the captain) and JC (Jerry Collins) ‘you did the right thing’. They just wore the clock down and I guess that’s the maturity of the group."
Bulls captain Victor Matfield, however, believes the Crusaders, who have already beaten the Hurricanes once this year, are heading for their sixth Super rugby title.
The Bulls were outscored by five tries to two in their 35-15 semi-final defeat at Jade Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday and the Bulls lock thinks the Super 12 champions will have the edge this weekend, especially with home ground advantage.
"They are a great team. The Hurricanes have been playing well and have some great players but the Crusaders should be favourites.
"If you give the Crusaders a chance they use that and that was the difference (on Saturday). Every time we gave them
one they scored."