The Highlanders endured a spirited and physical second-half resurgence by the Blues to win 29-21 in Dunedin on Saturday.
All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith opened the scoring when he charged down Chris Noakes and had enough speed to veer his way into the corner. Then good work from Liam Coltman at the breakdown created the turnover for the Highlanders to attack; centre Malakai Fekitoa finishing off a sensational score.
Ben Smith was available to take the pass from his namesake scrumhalf and dive through a gap for the Highlanders' third try for a 24-0 lead at the break.
The Blues did grab a try back through Francis Saili immediately after the interval but the Highlanders were on a mission, with Patrick Osborne crossing for the bonus-point try before 50 minutes were up.
Benji Marshall made his Super Rugby debut at fullback and entered the fray in the final quarter as Angus Taavao-Matau crashed over to narrow the scoreline to 29-14, giving the Blues the faintest of sniffs.
They lapped it up, a third try from another replacement in Patrick Tuipulotu starting to crank the pressure up on the hosts as Marshall's offload released Saili to start the attack.
The Blues could have settled for a losing bonus point but Noakes missed the penalty despite a brighter finish for the Blues.
Highlanders – Tries: Patrick Osborne, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Aaron Smith. Penalty: Lima Sopoaga. Conversions: Sopoaga (3).
Blues – Tries: Patrick Tuipulotu, Angus Taavao-Matau, Francis Saili. Conversions: Chris Noakes (3).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Liam Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diáz, 18 Craig Millar, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Benji Marshall, 23 Tevita Li.
Photo: Rob Jefferies/Getty Images