Super Rugby champions the Highlanders ended the Lions unbeaten run with a 34-15 victory at the Forsyth Barr stadium in Dunedin.
The Lions had made their best start to a Super Rugby season with victories over the Sunwolves in Tokyo and the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Lions scored a late try which denied the Highlanders what would have been the first try bonus point for a New Zealand team in 2016.
The teams were fairly even in the first half even though the Highlanders led 10-13 at the break.
The Highlanders took a big step up early in the second half by scoring 14 points in four minutes which effectively won the match.
All Black Ben Smith sparked the Highlanders second-half blitz with a long range try which was started by fellow All Black Aaron Smith.
The Highlanders then followed that up with a second try to Matt Feddes who’s first half try was his first in Super Rugby.
Ten minutes later they produced another try from their own 22-metre line on their way to outscoring the South Africans.
The Lions never recovered from yielding 21 points in the third quarter as they crashed to their first defeat.
They produced two tries in the closing stages of the game but the outcome by then was beyond doubt.
The Highlanders laid the foundation for the victory with a kick-and-chase first half to keep the Lions on the back foot and a dominant pack who restricted the amount of clean ball the Lions were able to secure.
“Our forwards played really well. We knew they were going to come hard at set piece time and our forwards fronted there and we made the most of the ball we had,” captain Ben Smith said.
Lima Sopoaga, who finished with 14 points and a 100 percent kicking success rate, engineered all of the Highlanders first half points with penalty and then a delicate chip kick to put right wing Matt Faddes in for his first try.
The Lions best try-scoring chance in the first half came against the run of play when a Jaco Kriel intercept sparked a 60-metre move but when Ruan Combrinck tried to ground the ball he was held up by Malakai Fekitoa.
With a seven point lead at the break the Highlanders were not comfortable but everything changed two minutes into the second half.
Ben Smith took a quick lineout with Aaron Smith on the Highlanders 22 line which ended with a try to Ben Smith.
From the restart Faddes pulled off an intercept to run 70 metres for a try and that was followed by an Alex Ainley turnover deep in Highlanders territory which resulted in a try to Fekitoa at the other end of the field.
Sopoaga, who converted all the tries, added a drop goal to have the Highlanders up 34-3 before the Lions finished off with tries to Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, on debut, and Ruan Ackermann.
Elton Jantjies kicked a penalty in the first half and a conversion in the second.
Next week in Round 4 the Lions are back at home in Johannesburg as they host the Cheetahs while the Highlanders play the Waratahs in Sydney.
Final Score Highlanders 34 (10) Lions 15 (3)
Tries – M.Feddes 2, B.Smith, M.Fekitoa
Pen – L.Sopoaga
Con – L.Sopoaga 4
Drop – L.Sopoaga
Tries – RJ. Van Rensburg, R. Ackermann
Pen – E.Jantjies
Con – E.Jatjies
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Ref 1:Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant Ref 2:Kane McBride
TMO : Aaron Paterson
1. Brendon Edmonds , 2. Liam Coltman , 3. Siosiua Halanukonuka , 4. Alex Ainley , 5. Joe Wheeler , 6. Luke Whitelock , 7. Dan Pryor , 8. Liam Squire , 9. Aaron Smith , 10. Lima Sopoaga , 11. Patrick Osborne , 12. Rob Thompson , 13. Malakai Fekitoa , 14. Matt Faddes , 15. Ben Smith ( c )
Replacements : 16. Ash Dixon , 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown , 18. Ross Geldenhuys , 19. Elliot Dixon , 20. Shane Christie , 21. Josh Renton , 22. Hayden Parker , 23. Jason Emery
1 Jacques Van Rooyen , 2 Robbie Coetzee , 3 Ruan Dreyer , 4 Andries Ferreira , 5 Franco Mostert , 6 Jaco Kriel , 7 Warwick Tecklenberg , 8 Warren Whiteley , 9 f Faf De Klerk , 10 Elton Jantjies , 11 L Courtnal Skosan , 12 Howard Mnisi , 13 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg , 14 Ruan Combrinck, 15 Jaco Van Der Walt
Replacements 16. Armand Van Der Merwe , 17. Corne Fourie , 18. Julian Redelinghuys , 19. Robert Kruger , 20. Ruan Ackermann , 21. Dillon Smit , 22. Jacques Nel , 23. Andries Coetzee.