Western Stormers survived several second-half scares Saturday to top the Super 15 table with a 26-21 final-round win over Melbourne Rebels at chilly Newlands.
Stormers finished with 66 points from 14 victories and two losses -- two points more than long-time pacesetters Waikato Chiefs of New Zealand, who conceded a stoppage-time try to lose at Wellington Hurricanes the previous day.
Rebels failed despite scoring three tries to the two of the Stormers, who became the first side to reach the knock-out stages of the southern hemisphere provincial championship without collecting a four-try bonus point in any match.
The South Africans went into the match against the lowly Australians knowing a victory would lift them to the top and they were comfortably placed at half-time with a 16-0 advantage.
Rebels, whose inside centre Stirling Mortlock was making his final appearance after 14 seasons of top-flight rugby union, spent much of the opening half in Stormers territory without putting any points on the board.
Stormers fly-half Peter Grant kicked two penalties and converted a try from outside centre Juan de Jongh before adding another penalty in stoppage-time to close his first-half account.
Constant Rebels pressure finally paid off 11 minutes into the second half when loosehead prop Rodney Blake was credited with a pushover try and scrum-half Nick Phipps darted over three minutes later to silence the crowd.
Full-back Julian Huxley converted both tries to leave just two points between the teams, but the Stormers responded with a try inside 60 seconds thanks to the alertness of left wing Bryan Habana.
The Springbok burst forward to gather the ball from the kick-off and a surge deep into the Rebels half ended with De Jongh going over for his second try of the match and third of the season.
Grant converted for a 23-14 lead only for replacement wing Cooper Vuna to dot down 10 minutes from time and Huxley maintained his perfect place-kicking record with another conversion to narrow the gap to two points again.
Stormers skipper and inside centre Jean de Villiers thought he scored a try with five minutes left, but the television match official was not convinced, and the referree awarded the home team a penalty instead.
Grant made it six successful kicks from six shots at goal to increase the lead to five points and the Stormers held on in a nerve-tingling finish to clinch a home semi-final and home final if they get that far.
But they had to endure several anxious minutes as Rebels pressed for the late try that could have given them victory before an off-the-ball infringement cost them a penalty and Stormers won the line-out and banged the ball into touch.