The ACT Brumbies snapped the Highlanders' winning Super Rugby run in Canberra, the hosts winning 33-26 in a game that also saw the visitors lose first five eighth Colin Slade to a sickening broken ankle.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph faces the prospect of being without Slade for the rest of the season after the second-half injury. Slade's remaining in Canberra to undergo surgery.
The Highlanders return to New Zealand to take on the Melbourne Rebels next Friday, while the Brumbies will host the Sharks at home the day after.
Elsewhere the Stormers moved to the top of the table with a 24-19 win over the Lions at Ellis Park, another South African side the Bulls routed champions Queensland Reds 61-8 in Pretoria, the New South Wales Waratahs came from behind to edge the Sharks 34-30, and the Crusaders beat the Cheetahs 28-21 in their inaugural home game at the new Christchurch Stadium.