The Highlanders kept their slim hopes of making the Super Rugby Aotearoa final alive with a pulsating 35-29 win over the Blues in Dunedin on Friday.
AS IT HAPPENED | Highlanders v Blues
The Highlanders scored five tries to four in an end-to-end game as skipper Aaron Smith marshalled his team superbly after committing an early error to give the Blues the lead.
It means the Highlanders, who have three wins from seven matches in the New Zealand competition, can still make the final but need results to go their way.
"I don't know mathematically about what happens, but I'm just real proud," Smith said after the win.
"It's unbelievable, we've been struggling at home which is a bit disappointing but it was a hell of a performance from our boys."
Blues skipper Otere Black lamented a lack of discipline which saw his side awarded a yellow and a red card.
"We were probably our own worst enemy tonight, our discipline wasn't good enough," he said.
The Blues still sit second on the table with three wins from six matches and remain in contention to face runaway leaders the Crusaders in the final.
"We'll take the loss, we'll take the learnings and we have to move on pretty quickly," Black said.
The Highlanders made a poor start as Smith gifted the Blues a try with a rash pass under pressure.
His opposite number Jonathan Ruru read the All Black veteran's intentions perfectly, sprinting forward to grab the ball for the simplest of intercept tries.
The Highlanders got it back with a try to Kazuki Himeno and gained a one-man advantage when Blues loose forward Hoskins Sotutu was sin-binned for foul play.
They immediately capitalised when Josh Ioane broke through the defence for their second try.
Centre Rieko Ioane scored for the Blues but it was the Highlanders who went into the break, leading 22-17 after Smith set up an unmarked Ngatungane Punivai with an inch-perfect pass.
Smith was again instrumental when Jona Nareki crossed for the Highlanders' fourth try after the restart, tackling Sotutu for a turnover.
A penalty extended the lead to 30-17 and while a Nepo Laulala try briefly gave the Blues hope, it was dashed when Alex Hodgman was shown a red-card for a head-high shoulder charge.
The incident, which will be reviewed by the Sanzaar judiciary next week, effectively sealed the match, despite late tries to Highlanders centre Michael Collins and Blues flanker Sotutu.
Tries: Kazuki Himeno, Josh Ioane, Ngatungane Punivai, Jona Nareki, Michael Collins
Conversions: Josh Ioane (2)
Penalties: Josh Ioane, Mitch Hunt
Tries: Jonathan Ruru, Rieko Ioane, Nepo Laulala, Hoskins Sotutu
Conversions: Otere Black (3)
Penalties: Otere Black
Yellow cards: Hoskins Sotutu
Red cards: Alex Hodgman
15 Josh Ioane, 14 Ngatungane Punivai, 13 Patelesio Tomkinson, 12 Scott Gregory, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ayden Johnstone
Substitutes: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan De Groot, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Michael Collins, 23 James Lentjes.
Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson (captain), 5 Sam Darry, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Luteru Tolai, 1 Karl Tu'inukuafe
Substitutes: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Bryce Heem.