The Highlanders kept their charge for the Super 14 semi-finals alive on Saturday, winning 24-19 against the Reds in Invercargill and ending the Reds' slim semi-final hopes in the process.
After the craziness of white on white in Bloemfontein last week, we had an even more peculiar sight this time: the Reds in white, the Highlanders in red. Surely the traditional blue of the home side and red of the Reds would not have been that much of a clash? Is there no end to the cashing in on different shirts from rugby's ever-cheapening marketeers?
The Reds tore into the match with a brilliant try after just 23 seconds! Berrick Barnes drifted onto a pass and broke the line, offloaded to Mark McLinden, who flicked superbly behind his back for the Supporting Quade Cooper to canter home and score.
Two minutes later, Highlanders fly-half Matt Berquist converted a penalty after a team-mate was high tackled.
The bright start was misleading though, and the game soon settled into a pattern of error and counter-error in some difficult damp and windy conditions.
The Reds made more errors than their hosts for the occasion, with Brendon Va'aulu epitomising his team's effort by putting in a huge hit one minute in defence, then spilling a textbook high ball a minute later.
Eventually the mistakes undermined their efforts and the Highlanders got a try of their own: Josh Bekhuis' drive through the bodies to the line requiring TMO confirmation.
The Highlanders certainly offered a more accomplished display than their guests and played it patiently. Matt Berquist chose his runners well and it was a rare phase indeed when the home side did not break the gain line. The Reds soaked up the pressure well enough and rarely opened up, but a second home try seemed inevitable.
Yet having dominated for much of the first half hour, the Highlanders were left under their posts wondering how they could be behind.
Brendon McKibbin was the architect of the second Reds try, three times tapping for quick free-kicks before Hugh McMeniman bludgeoned his way through the fragmented defence. McKibbin converted.
Matt Berquist pushed one chance to give his side the lead off to the right and the Highlanders kept up their siege, but it was the Reds who went into the dressing rooms a couple of points ahead.
The Reds nearly began the second half as they had the first, with Peter Hynes haring off down the left, but Israel Dagg covered this time - perhaps helped by a suspicion of ring-rustiness in Hynes' pace in his first game back from injury.
The run precipitated a heavy spell of pressure from the visitors, their first such of the match, but it yielded nothing and the Highlanders scored next.
This was a brilliant try, a clean break through the middle from Daniel Bowden, popped it out to Jason Shoemark who delivered a wonderful scoring pass in a tackle for Kenny Lynn to coast home. Berquist converted to make it 17-12.
Back came the Reds with far more purpose and structure than before, using the taller timber around the fringes and keeping the wider options for more select purposes. It certainly put the home side under more pressure, with Craig Joubert issuing two warnings at rucks for penalties and cards. But it yielded nothing.
The Highlanders scored the crucial score with twelve minutes to go, when George Naoupu just about made it to the line on a close-range charge although the Reds might look at the TMO decision with critical eyes. Berquist converted to make it 24-12.
Right from the restart Scott Higginbotham and McLinden combined thrillingly down the right, and some edge-of-the-seat offloading in the tackle eventually worked space for Digby Ioane to race home under the posts with nine to go.
A thrilling fightback? Sadly for the Reds, no. The Highlanders contested vigorously at the breakdown - again, the Reds might look at the officiating of some of the rucks a little critically, but they might also reflect, equally critically that in the last five minutes they seemed incapable of slowing their own ball down and putting the necessary shape onto the game to manufacture a winning position.
Man of the match: It was very difficult to pin one player down in a match marked by two good team performances. Peter Hynes played well in his comeback match and Scott Higginbotham also did well for the Reds, but from the winning side and with the winning try, George Naoupu scoops the award for a workhorse display.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Bekhuis, Lynn, Naoupu
Cons: Berquist 2
For the Reds:
Tries: Cooper, McMeniman, Ioane
Cons: McKibbin 2
Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jason Shoemark, 12 Daniel Bowden, 11 Kendrick Lynn, 10 Mathew Berquist, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 George Naoupu, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 David Hall, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Chris King, 18 Hayden Triggs, 19 Steven Setephano, 20 Sean Romans, 21 Johnny Leota, 22 Fetu'u Vainikolo.
Reds: 15 Mark McLinden, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Digby Ioane, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Brando Va'aulu, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Ezra Taylor, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Hugh McMeniman, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Jack Kennedy, 18 Adam Byrnes, 19 Leroy Houston, 20 Brendan McKibbin, 21 Charlie Fetoai, 22 Luke Morahan.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Touch judges: Keith Brown (New Zealand), tba
Television match official: James McPhail (New Zealand)
Assessor: Greg Cooper (New Zealand)