The Highlanders ran in nine tries to claim a record-breaking 59-23 bonus-point win over the Waratahs in Dunedin on Saturday.
With this result the Highlanders kept themselves in the race for a spot in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final as they moved to second on the ladder alongside the Crusaders and behind the Blues, with Hurricanes also in contention to make the decider.
‘It’s game on,’ said Highlanders skipper Ash Dixon, whose team faces Brumbies in the competition’s final regular season round next week.
‘I’m pretty pleased with that one. We wanted to play with a bit of passion and put on a performance for possibly our last game at home.’
The result was the Waratahs’s 12th straight defeat, equalling the record for an Australian Super Rugby side record set by the Rebels in 2011-12.
‘It’s the story of our season really — the breakdown’s really hampering us as well as some handling errors,’ captain Alex Newsome said.
‘We’re feeling we can make good metres but retention’s proving to be a challenge for us.’
Play was end-to end under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium as both sides played expansive rugby and turned the match into an attack-orientated try-fest.
The high number of tackles and loose defence meant the game resembled touch rugby at times, as the lead changed hands seven times in the first half alone.
Highlanders centre Michael Collins struck within two minutes of the start as a Sio Tomkinson offload caught the Waratahs defence napping.
They crossed the line five times before the break, with wingers Jona Nareki and Tomkinson turning on the afterburners for their efforts, while forwards Ethan de Groot and Ash Dixon powered through.
Jack Maddocks and Mark Nawaqanitawase kept the Waratahs in touch, along with three penalties due to some poor discipline from the hosts, making it 33-23 at half-time.
The Highlanders ramped up their defence after the restart, holding the Waratahs scoreless in the second half as they notched four more tries through de Groot, Kazuki Himeno, Nareki and Teariki Ben-Nicholas.