A workmanlike 39-29 win saw the Highlanders move away from the Super 14 basement and the spirited Lions in Dunedin on Friday.
A workmanlike 39-29 victory saw the Highlanders propel themselves away from the Super 14 basement group and the spirited Lions at Carisbrook.
Despite a fine opening half from the visitors, it was the form of Israel Dagg that stole the early Round Seven headlines with a 24-point haul.
The Highlanders were in fact 6-17 down with 23 minutes passed but from that point the Lions slumped into their old bad habits of falling off tackles and losing their cool, with scores from Hayden Triggs, Kendrick Lynn and a penalty try ultimately putting the result beyond doubt.
But all was not lost for the visitors who, like they did against the Chiefs, found some extra energy in the final stages to pick up a four-try bonus point.
Many so-called experts had billed this twelfth versus thirteenth fixture to be something of a given for the New Zealanders but early on that looked to have been an error in judgment. The Lions were bringing down their opposition, enjoying some structure and finally showing belief in their rugby, which would have pleased coach Dick Muir immensely.
Team selection this week saw Earl Rose dropped to the bench alongside Burton Francis, with the duo finding their places going to Michael Killian and Carlos Spencer respectively. And those starting backs pairing proved to be a major part of the Lions renewed sense of direction, with the latter putting them in all the right areas going into the second quarter.
But it was some intelligent rugby that saw the side in red set off right onto the front foot. Muir and captain Cobus Grobbelaar had obviously talked at length how they could overcome the Highlanders and their decision to pack full attacking lineouts with a centre and also Killian paid dividends.
On just nine minutes the Lions used their driving maul, which became a big player in the first period, to good effect as first-up ground was made. Busy scrum-half Jano Vermaak then came blind to his full-back for the first crossing before fly-half Spencer's touchline conversion silenced the boisterous student crowd.
Dagg then quickly got his side on the board immediately after the restart, with the Lions' indiscipline starting to cost them, again. However, the visitors landed another early blow just three minutes later. A slightly fortuitous kick to touch from Spencer resulted in a lineout eight metres out and from that position, the cavalry was called for. This time Grobbelaar was at the back to push his side 12-3 ahead. It seemed that the Lions had at last found a match-winning tactic that would see them pick up their first win of the year.
But this is the Lions. Once again a mistake at the restart gifted Dagg another three points and later in the contest, it was their high penalty count in Dunedin that cut them to the core.
The now familiar driving maul did give them another five points through wing Wigan Pekeur – who claimed his brace later on. But that try was the last points the Lions saw until 70 minutes at the Cake Tin as the hosts gained a serious stranglehold in the match.
It was all Highlanders until the final ten as Dagg's dominant performance with the boot through penalty goals and conversions boosted the hosts' cause. However, they may be kicking themselves at not picking up their fourth try after replacement Fetu'u Vainikolo was pulled back by Stuart Dickinson after he adjudged a Lions defender to have been blocked.
Man-of-the-match: Not really much debate for this award as the points speak for the themselves. Just one kick missed all contest from full-back Israel Dagg as his stock continues to rise in New Zealand.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Triggs, Lynn, Penalty
Con: Dagg 3
Pen: Dagg 6
For the Lions:
Tries: Killian, Grobbelaar, Pekeur 2, Joubert
Con: Spencer, Rose
Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Kenny Lynn, 12 Michael Hobbs, 11 James Paterson, 10 Robbie Robinson, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 Steven Setephano, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Jason Macdonald, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Joe Tuineau, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Sean Romans, 21 Jason Shoemark, 22 Fetu'u Vainikolo.
Lions: 15 Michael Killian, 14 Wigan Pekeur, 13 Walter Venter, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Tonderai Chavhanga, 10 Carlos Spencer, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Todd Clever, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (c), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Nico Luus, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Hannes Franklin, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Charles Emslie, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Willem Stoltz, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 JP Joubert, 21 Wandile Mjekevu, 22 Earl Rose.
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)