The Highlanders claimed their first win of the Super Rugby season on Friday, beating the Reds 20-13 in a closely-fought clash in Dunedin.
The sides scored a try apiece via Reds loose forward Jake Schatz and Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo in an entertaining battle that hung in the balance until the dying minutes.
The Reds will head home with a bonus point, which is just reward for an enterprising and spirited performance.
The Highlanders probably deserved the four points, but they were made to work very hard. The result ends a four-match losing streak against the Reds for the New Zealand team.
A high-paced but try-less first half came to an end with the Highlanders leading 9-3 as Marty Banks and James O’Connor traded penalties.
The lack of tries was by no means a reflection of a lack of attacking intent as both teams looked to move the ball around at pace. There were a number of close calls, most notably Naholo being denied by a matter of inches as Will Genia beat him to grounding the ball.
The pace did not drop in the second half. Genia was held up over the line soon after the restart but the Reds were neverthless able to grab the first try as Schatz touched down on the 50-minute mark. A mix up at a 5m scrum saw Highlanders scrum-half Aaron Smith caught out of position and the Reds number eight could pick up the loose ball to dive over untouched.
O'Connor's conversion gave the visitors the lead for the first time but it was short-lived as Banks added his fourth penalty to put the Highlanders back in front at 12-10 heading into the final quarter.
Naholo extended the hosts' advantage with a brilliant finish, evading four cover defenders before bumping Lachie Turner out the way to score in the corner.
The conversion sailed wide though, leaving the Reds within striking range with just over ten minutes to play.
A long-range late penalty from Highlanders replacement Hayden Parker put the result beyond doubt but O’Connor slotted a three-pointer at the death to save a deserved bonus point for the Reds.
Pens: Banks 4, Parker
Pens: O'Connor 2
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jason Emery, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Kurt Baker.
Reds: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill , 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Marco Kotze, 4 Dave McDuling, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (c).
Replacements:16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Tom Murday, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Sam Johnson, 23 Campbell Magnay.
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)