The Highlanders overcame an early deficit before running away comfortable 33-15 bonus-point winners over the Stormers at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
The New Zealanders’ outscored the South Africans five tries to two in a display of sublime handling, while giving a lesson in taking chances and turning them into points.
The Stormers have now lost their last 10 matches in New Zealand. Aaron Smith and Waisake Naholo starred for the home team.
The Kiwis’ ability to keep plays alive with audacious offloading and sublime finishing, did for the visitors.
Robbie fleck’s chargers led 5-12 after tries by Chris van Zyl and Damian Willemse cancelled out Liam squires’ fourth-minute opener.
However, Aaron Smith and Naholo scored before the break, giving their team a lead they would not squander.
Luke Whitelock and Smith, with his second, capped a good night for the Highlanders.
The game started at a pace that only Super Rugby can muster as both sides looked for the early advantage.
The hosts were causing all manner of problems in the wide channels. Some poor first-time tackling did not help the Stormers.
Squire’s try came from Lima Sopoaga finding space after a 10-phase series which started deep inside the Highlanders half.
The Stormers came roaring back, scoring twice inside five minutes. The Cape team’s offloading was the equal of the Highlanders, setting up Van Zyl’s try from close range.
The next try came from a mistake by Rob Thompson and Teihorangi Walden.
The Highlanders were on the attack, just outside the opposition’s 22, but a misplaced pass was collected byWillemsee.
The flyhalf gathered the loose ball and raced 75 metres, running in untouched for the score.
The lead did not last long. Within minutes, Naholo beat three defenders while tip-toeing on the touchline.
The winger, somehow, stayed in the field and offloaded to the supporting Aaron Smith for his first try of the evening.
Sopoaga’s conversion levelled the scores at 12-all after 21 minutes.
Raymond Rhule went close, but Ben Smith’s last-ditch tackle stopped the flyer.
SP Marais missed a long-range penalty but made no mistake with his second penalty six minutes’ later.
The lead did not last long. Stright from the restart, the Sopoaga made a break, Thompson beat Siya Kolisi and sent Naholo away.
The inexperienced Stormers, missing several Springboks, managed to stay in the game, but they were kept scoreless after the break.
To be fair, they did not fold, as most sides do in the final quarter against Kiwi opposition.
They did concede an early second-half try when Whitelock crashed over from close range.
By now, the home team had gone up a gear. Aaron Smith’s distribution was quick, slick and kept the Stormers on the back foot. They could not get to any of the Highlanders’ ball.
The visitors did shore up their lineout, which had started with a couple of lost throws, but they could not get the driving maul going.
The Otago side found it easy to defend the fringes, forcing the Stormers wide. But, they found no joy in the outside channels, not like their hosts were.
The Highlanders squandered several scoring opportunities before the All Blacks scrumhalf made sure of the bonus-point victory with two minutes to play.
Final score: Highlanders 33 (19) Stormers 15 (15)
Tries – Squire, A. Smith (2), Naholo, Whitelock
Con – Sopoaga (4)
Tries – Van Zyl, Willemse
Pen – Marais
Con – Marais
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 1: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 2: Angus Mabey
TMO: Glenn Newman
15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Nabura, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomaz, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
15 Sarel Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 George Whitehead, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 Johannes Engelbrecht.