The Highlanders made a winning return to Super Rugby action when they claimed a 33-15 victory over the Stormers in Dunedin on Friday.
In a fast-paced and entertaining encounter, in which both sides ran the ball from all areas of the field, the Highlanders eventually outscored their visitors five tries to three with Aaron Smith leading the way with a deserved brace.
The result means the Highlanders move into second spot on the New Zealand Conference while the Stormers finish their Australasian tour without a victory.
In a frenetic start, both sides showed their intentions from the kick off by taking the ball through several phases on attack.
The Highlanders eventually got the rub of the green and were rewarded in the fourth minute when Teihorangi Walden drew in a couple of defenders inside the Stormers’ 22 before offloading to Liam Squire, who crashed over for the opening try.
Lima Sopoaga’s conversion attempt was off target but the Stormers were level by the 11th minute after Dewaldt Duvenage and Raymond Rhule combined brilliantly with deft offloads in the build-up to Chris van Zyl’s try.
The Highlanders tried to strike back but a wayward pass from Rob Thompson, midway between the Stormers’ 10-metre line and their 22 was gathered by Damian Willemse, who outsprinted the cover defence before crossing for his side’s second try.
Midway through the half, Waisake Naholo made a break down the right-hand touchline and beat three defenders before throwing an inside pass to Aaron Smith, who scored an easy try under the posts.
An SP Marais penalty in the 32nd minute gave the visitors a 15-12 lead but five minutes before the interval, the Highlanders launched another attack with Thompson prominent.
He did well to draw in a couple of defenders before offloading to Naholo, who crossed for a deserved try with Sopoaga adding the extras which gave his side a 19-15 lead at half-time.
The Highlanders continued to attack in the second half and in the 48th minute, Luke Whitelock powered his way over the try-line after Tevita Nabura was stopped just short of the whitewash in the build-up.
Although both sides continued to attack, the rest of the half was characterised by several handling errors from both sides.
Two minutes before full-time, Naholo made another telling break and offloaded to Smith again before he crossed for his second try which also secured the result and a bonus-point for the Highanders.
Tries: Squire, A Smith 2, Naholo, Whitelock
Cons: Sopoaga 4
Tries: Van Zyl, Willemse
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 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 Lomax, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes
Stormers: 15 SP 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 (c), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 George Whitehead, 23 JJ Engelbrecht
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)