Super Rugby champions the Highlanders remained in contention for a place in the play offs by beating the Southern Kings 18-48 with a bonus point at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
The Highlanders were without most of their All Blacks and put in a subdued performance by their standards as with 15 minutes remaining were leading by just two points.
The result moves the Highlanders back into the Wild card places and pushes the Waratahs out of contention for the play offs.
The Highlanders outscored the Southern Kings by seven tries to two – three of which were scored in the final five minutes of the match.
Having held a two point lead and needing the bonus point the Highlanders stepped up their attack and sent over wingers Jack Wilson and Patrick Osborne, full-back Matt Faddes and prop Alex Seiuli.
Faddes bagged a hat-trick to reach nine for the season, making him the co-leading try scorer with South Africans Lionel Mapoe and Sergeal Petersen, Australian Israel Folau and Japanese Akihito Yamada.
Loose forward Dan Pryor, a half-time replacement for groggy skipper Shane Christie, also scored a try, giving Highlanders a total of seven and a bonus-point triumph.
Fly-half Lima Sopoaga slotted four conversions and a penalty and substitute Fletcher Smith kicked the final conversion.
The title-holders started the match sixth in the combined Australia-New Zealand standings and only the leading five teams, including the two conference winners, secure quarter-finals places.
However, the triumph over the Kings moved the Dunedin-based outfit into the top five, four points above close challengers the New South Wales Waratahs of Australia.
Highlanders complete their regular season league schedule with an away game against the Jaguares of Argentina and a home match against New Zealand conference leaders Waikato Chiefs.
It was the 11th loss in 13 matches for the Kings, who prop up the Africa 2 standings with only nine points from a possible 65.
“We struggled during the first half and were instructed at half-time to play for territory and to retain possession,” said Highlanders hooker and official man of the match Ash Dixon.
“It was not as easy a win as the scoreline suggests. The Kings played with a lot of fortitude and pushed us hard until the closing stages.”
France-bound Kings skipper and lock Steven Sykes said: “We conceded 28 points in the final 10 minutes so something went horribly wrong and I blame a lack of attitude.
“We have a young team that is keen to learn, but the players sometimes doubt themselves when things start to go wrong.”
Sopoaga kicked a penalty and converted the first Faddes try for a 10-point lead that was cut to two by half-time after a penalty from fly-half Elgar Watts and a try from winger Wandile Mjekevu.
Faddes and Pryor scored further tries for the Highlanders before replacement fly-half Louis Fouche slotted a penalty and converted a brilliant try finished off by Sykes to leave the Kings trailing 20-18 on 64 minutes.
But instead of pushing on in search of a memorable victory, the home side collapsed to suffer another heavy defeat this season.
Next week travel to Buenos Aires where they will play the Jaguares while the Southern Kings play the Lions in Johannesburg.
Final Score Kings 18 (8) Highlanders 48 (10)
Tries – W.Mjekevu, S.Sykes
Pen -E.Watts. L.Fouche
Con – L.Fouche
Cards – S.Gates (16th min yellow)
Tries – M.Faddes 3, D.Pryor, J.Wilson, P.Osborne, A.Seiuli
Pen – L.Sopoaga
Con – L.Sopoaga 2. F.Smith
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant Ref 1: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant Ref 2:Rodney Boneparte (South Africa)
TMO : Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
15. Malcolm Jaer , 14. Lukhanyo Am , 13. Stefan Watermeyer , 12. Shane Gates (VC) , 11. Wandile Mjekevu , 10. Elgar Watts , 09. Ntando Kebe , 08. Aidon Davis , 07. Stefan Willemse , 06. CJ Velleman , 05. JC Astle , 04. Steven Sykes (C) , 03. Tom Botha , 02. Edgar Marutlulle , 01. Schalk Ferreira
Replacements : 16. Martin Bezuidenhout , 17. Sti Sithole , 18. Justin Ackerman , 19. Schalk Oelofse , 20. Jacques Engelbrecht , 21. Kevin Luiters , 22. Louis Fouche , 23. Luzuko Vulindlu
1. Daniel Lienert-Brown , 2. Ash Dixon , 3. Josh Hohneck , 4. Mark Reddish , 5. Tom Franklin , 6. Gareth Evans , 7. Shane Christie (C) , 8. Luke Whitelock , 9. Te Aihe Toma , 10. Lima Sopoaga , 11. Ryan Tongia , 12. Rob Thompson , 13. Jason Emery , 14. Jack Wilson , 15. Matt Faddes
Replacements : 16. Greg Pleasants-Tate , 17. Aki Seiuli , 18. Siosuia Halanukonuka , 19. Liam Squire , 20. Dan Pryor , 21. Jamie Booth , 22. Fletcher Smith , 23. Patrick Osborne