The Highlanders showed they still have Super Rugby championship winning qualities by beating the Crusaders 34-26 with a bonus point in Dunedin.
The result brings an end to the Crusaders eight match winning run and extends the Highlanders run to three straight wins.
Last week the Highlanders ended the Chiefs seven match winning streak in Hamilton.
The defending champion Highlanders outscored the Crusaders by five tries to two in the contest.
The Crusaders remain on top of the overall Super Rugby standings but the Highlanders have closed the gap.
The Highlanders moved up to 37 points level with the Chiefs and Crusaders who lead on points difference. The Crusaders also have a game in hand over their NZ rivals.
The Highlanders have played 11 and won 8 while the Crusaders have played 10 and won 8 as well as this is their second loss of the season.
Despite spending much of the first half with ball in hand on attack the Crusaders found that they were three tries down and trailing by 8 points (12-20) at half time.
Unheralded Highlanders back Matt Faddes and All Blacks wing Naholo both scored two tries in the relentless running spectacle and it was outside centre Faddes, a former sevens star and one of the fastest players in New Zealand, who set the pace.
His ability to slice through the Crusaders’ midfield produced his first try and set up Naholo’s second, and Faddes then broke the game open when he scored again with a 50-metre solo effort soon after half-time.
The Highlanders spent most of the first quarter scrambling in defence as the Crusaders effectively used the inside pass to have tight forwards Owen Franks, Wyatt Crockett and Luke Romano lead a procession through the inside channels.
But they were denied two tries by the television match official when Kieran Read and Romano attacked the line, and Highlanders captain Ben Smith sensed the momentum switch once they had weathered that opening storm.
“They were probably a bit unlucky not to score a couple of tries, but I’m really proud of the way we reacted to that and managed to get back into the game,” Smith said.
“We knew we had to keep attacking. They’re a quality team and we had to get points on the board and on the back end of that we had to do a lot of defending and I think if paid off quite nicely.”
The Crusaders had to rely on penalties to take a 3-9 lead before the Highlanders, surviving on scraps of possession, burst into life with three tries in the second quarter.
A well-weighted Lima Sopoaga cross kick put Naholo over in the corner for the first try and they then twice used the wrap-around move from a line-out for Faddes to score his first and send Naholo in for his second.
Faddes extended the Highlanders’ lead to 27-12 early in the second half when he stepped inside Matt Todd on the halfway line and raced 50 metres unopposed to touchdown.
The frenetic final 30 minutes were filled with outrageous off-loads, power running and brutal tackles.
The Crusaders eventually found their way over the line with a try to Jordan Taufua only for the Highlanders to reply with a try to Liam Squire before Israel Dagg finished off the scoring with the Crusaders second try on full-time.
Next week the Crusaders are back at home in Christchurch where they will host the Waratahs and the Highlanders have a bye.
Final Score Highlanders 34 (20) Crusaders 26 (12)
Tries – W.Naholo 2. M.Faddes 2, L.Squire
Pen – L.Sopoaga
Con – L.Sopoaga 3
Cards – J.Wheeler (54th min yellow)
Tries – J. Taufua, I. Dagg
Pen – R.Mo’unga 4
Con – R.Mo’unga 2
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Ref 1:Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant Ref 2:Kane McBride
TMO : Aaron Paterson
1. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2. Ash Dixon, 3. Siosiua Halanukonuka , 4. Alex Ainley, 5. Joe Wheeler, 6. Elliot Dixon, 7. Dan Pryor, 8. Luke Whitelock, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Patrick Osborne 12. Malakai Fekitoa, 13. Matt Faddes, 14. Waisake Naholo, 15. Ben Smith (c)
Replacements : 16. Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17. Craig Millar, 18. Ross Geldenhuys, 19. Tom Franklin, 20. Liam Squire, 21. Fumiaki Tanaka, 22. Marty Banks, 23. Teihorangi Walden
1. Wyatt Crockett ,2. Codie Taylor, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Jordan Taufua, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Kieran Read (c), 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Richie Mo’unga, 11. Jone Macilai, 12. David Havili, 13. Kieron Fonotia, 14. Johnny McNicholl, 15. Israel Dagg
Replacements : 16. Ged Robinson , 17. Joe Moody ,18. Mike Alaalatoa ,19. Scott Barrett ,20. Tim Boys , 21. Mitchell Drummond , 22. Ryan Crotty, 23. Marty Mckenzie,