The Highlanders stunned the ACT Brumbies with two first-half tries in as many minutes then weathered a spirited fightback with 14 men to grind out a scrappy 26-20 victory in their Super rugby match in Invercargill on Friday.
The surprise package of the competition, the Highlanders have now won four of their first six games after managing only three in total in the southern hemisphere provincial competition last year.
Facing a 15-0 deficit by the 26th minute, the Brumbies clawed back to 26-20 with two minutes remaining when replacement Patrick Phibbs touched down but in the end, the visitors were left to rue a series of handling errors and inaccurate kicking.
The Brumbies, who sacked their coach Andy Friend after the second round, have just one win for the season.
After a tightly contested start, the Highlanders stunned the Brumbies when hooker Jason Rutledge crossed twice in two minutes.
Livewire winger Kade Poki broke through the lines at midfield in the 17th minute and charged 50 metres to allow halfback Jimmy Cowan to scoop up a loose ball and deftly place a kick for Rutledge to run onto at the left corner.