The Highlanders overturned a 12-point deficit to beat the Crusaders 29-26 in their first pre-season outing in Timaru on Saturday.
Star players from both sides were rested for this clash, with a number of rookies given the opportunity to stake a claim for Vodacom Super Rugby selection.
The Crusaders raced into a 12-0 lead courtesy of two quick tries, but the Highlanders then ran in four unanswered touchdowns to make it 24-12.
Things went from bad to worse for the Crusaders when scrumhalf Willi Heinz was stretchered off with a broken leg before new recruit Jone Macalai, who many had likened to Nemani Nadolo, departed with a suspected broken arm.
Injuries notwithstanding, the Saders clawed their way back to narrow the gap to three, but in the end the Highlanders held on for victory.
The Highlanders will travel to Australia for their final two pre-season games against the Brumbies and Rebels, while the Crusaders will finish their Super Rugby preparations against the Hurricanes and Reds respectively.
Crusaders – Tries: Mitchell Drummond, Johnny McNicholl, Reed Prinsep, Jordan Taufua. Conversions: Richie Mo'unga (3).
Highlanders – Tries: John Hardie, Ryan Tongia (2), Scott Eade, Elliot Dixon. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga, Hayden Parker.
Crusaders – 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Jone Macalai, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Nathaniel Apa, 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Jimmy Tupou, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Subs: Ben Funnell, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Sione Faletau, Dominic Bird, Jordan Taufua, Billy Guyton, Robbie Fruean, Ged Robinson, Rob Thompson, Reed Prinsep, George Bridges, Michael Green, Willi Heinz, Milford Keresoma, Luke Romano, Jed Brown, Luteru Laulala.
Highlanders – 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Ryan Tongia, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Scott Eade, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 John Hardie, 6 James Lentjies, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Subs: 16 Kane Hames, 17 Nasi Manu, 18 Pingi Ta'alapitaga, 19 Joe Latta, 20 Alex Ainley, 21 Liam Howley, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Teihorangi Walden, 24 Trent Renata, 25 Sam Anderson Heather, 26 Michael Collins.