The South African side came desperately close to taking the Canberra clash into extra-time as Riaan Smit’s attempted conversion of Ryno Benjamin’s last-minute try, which would have taken the match to extra time, glanced off the goalposts.
Benjamin took the field as a late replacement and caught a pass from scrum-half Sarel Pretorius outside the last defender to score a try that gave the Cheetahs hope of prolonging their best season.
Smit, who had kicked only one of his three previous shots at goal, lined up the conversion from the left-hand touchline and into the teeth of a bitter wind.
His powerful kick arced towards the posts but, at the last second, drifted away and just brushed the left-hand post to end the Cheetahs’ Super 15 campaign, while the Brumbies lived on to fight for another week.
The Cheetahs scored the only tries of a gruelling battle through centre Johann Sadie off a lineout win, with Raymond Rhule splitting the defence off a Willie le Roux long pass and Benjamin, while Smit landed just one penalty from four kicks at goal.
The hosts’ points all came from penalties, with Wallaby back Christian Lealiifano landing four from six and scrum-half Nic White succeeding with a long-range attempt.
The Australian outfit will now travel to South Africa to take on triple champions The Bulls next Saturday, while holders Waikato Chiefs host the Canterbury Crusaders in the other all-New Zealand semi-final.