WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Wellington supporters are awaiting their team's appearance in its first home semifinal in Super Rugby since 2006 with the mixture of gnawing anxiety and nervous excitement that attends the Hurricanes rare adventures in the post-season.
The Hurricanes have never won the Super Rugby title, but have never seemed more likely to do so than this year when they finished in first place at the end of the regular season, to earn direct passage to Saturday's semifinal against the sixth-place ACT Brumbies.
In 2006, the Hurricanes beat the New South Wales Waratahs in Wellington before losing to the Crusaders in a fog-bound final in Christchurch, their only previous visit to the championships game.
For much of their history, since they played the first-ever Super Rugby match against the Blues in 1996, Hurricanes lineups have promised much while delivering little.
In their style of play they have always been one of the most ambitious and one of the most attractive teams in the competition. Their squads have included players of the caliber of Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga and Jerry Collins, whose recent death in France will imbue Saturday's match with an element of sadness.
The Hurricanes sell more merchandise than any other Super Rugby team; they have the distinction of being the favorite "second team" of fans not just in New Zealand but in Australia and South Africa. Because of their unpredictability they are fun to watch, hard to follow.
Many times they have built the hopes of their fans with outstanding performances throughout the regular season, only to falter down the stretch. Those many failures since 1996 have produced among Hurricanes fans an ingrained fatalism which expresses itself in the expectation that, no matter how promising the prelude, something will go wrong at the end.
But the Hurricanes of 2015 have been unlike any of their predecessors: appearing to have consistency and the unflinching strength under pressure that has been missing in the past.
They won 14 of 16 regular season matches, losing only to the defending champion Waratahs in the 10th round and to the Crusaders in the 16th. The second loss was reminiscent of so many late-season slumps but this Hurricanes team shrugged it off and went on to beat the Highlanders and the Chiefs to finish atop the standings.
This season the Hurricanes have maintained a typically extravagant style of backplay but that has been alloyed to workmanlike and reliable forward play and strong, adventurous and skilled loose forwards.
The forward combination, among which Victor Vito, James Broadhurst and Dane Coles are current All Blacks, lends the Hurricanes uncommon solidity. The pack serves a backline in which scrumhalf T.J. Perenara, Barrett, midfielders Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith and wingers Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder are also current All Blacks.
But of all the teams they could play in the semifinals, the Brumbies might be best equipped to disrupt their title run. While the Highlanders and Waratahs, who will meet in the second semifinal in Sydney on Saturday, play a style akin to the Hurricanes', the Brumbies offer a striking contrast.
The Brumbies' play, while not lacking an attacking element, is more methodic and founded on strength at set pieces and on the rolling maul. The Brumbies will almost certainly threaten the Hurricanes' line with rolling mauls from attacking lineouts and the Hurricanes' greatest challenge will be to answer that threat.
The Brumbies will be better suited than the Hurricanes to a game played at a measured pace: a point emphasized in the Waratahs' win over the Hurricanes this season.
Brumbies prop Scott Sio said the Waratahs may have revealed a way to upset the Hurricanes.
"The biggest thing is look at how they defended them and the Waratahs had a lot of great line speed," Sio said. "With the Hurricanes having so many attacking weapons -- Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea etc. - you can't give them the time and space to create those opportunities.
"We know how big defense is going to be in this game."
Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith said his team could counter that strategy.
"We always try to play a game that other teams struggle to keep up with," Smith said. "But, then again, they're very good at controlling the speed of the game.
"We've done our homework on them ... we've come up with a plan and we'll see how it goes."