The Highlanders fought tooth and nail for their first win of the Super 14 season with a well-earned 31-24 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Juan Smith's late try proved only a consolation for the Cheetahs as they slumped to a second Super 14 defeat in three games, this after upsetting the Sharks in Durban a week earlier.
The hosts were expected to record their first back-to-back wins in Super Rugby since rejoining the competition in 2006, against a Highlanders side that lost their two opening matches.
However, ill-discipline and poor defence cost the Cheetahs dearly. They conceded far too many penalties in kickable positions, and were often found wanting in defence.
First-half tries from Kenny Lynn and Fetu'u Vainikolo, added to Michael Hobbs' 72nd minute effort, cancelled out the scores of Heinrich Brussow and his South Africa team-mate Smith.
Before that, Naas Olivier had kept the hosts in the game with accurate goal-kicking, but some disappointing precision towards the end at Vodacom Park turned out to be crucial.
Naka Drotske's team were ahead after five minutes when Olivier planted over a penalty from the right after John Hardie was penalised for running ahead of Jimmy Cowan's kick.
But the visitors hit back straight from the restart, with Jason Rutledge and Clint Newland combining to send Lynn away for the opening try under the post.
Hobbs added the extras with a straightforward conversion and his team-mate Israel Dagg missed the chance to extend the lead further when he pulled a long-range penalty narrowly wide.
Olivier then cut the gap to one point at the end of the first quarter after a solid kick from the right, but again the response from the visitors was emphatic - Adriaan Strauss losing the ball in a tackle and Vainikolo picking up the scraps to charge more than 60 metres for his side's second try.
This time Hobbs missed the conversion and the usually reliable Olivier wasted a chance to cut the deficit when he dragged an easy penalty to the left.
He redeemed himself slightly, though, by calmly slotting over not long after, but another three points from Dagg this time, helped his side into a 15-9 lead at the break.
The two sides again exchanged penalties after the restart as indiscipline began to creep in.
Momentum began to look like it was shifting in favour of the visitors when the hosts were denied a try - Jongi Nokwe kept out by a last-ditch Ben Smith tackle - and another Dagg penalty stretched the lead beyond seven.
A crucial moment in the game arrived just before the hour mark when Brussow's surging run took him over - the television official taking more than three minutes to decide the outcome.
Olivier added the extras to leave his side two points behind, but then missed a crucial penalty to put them ahead.
The Cheetahs fly-half would have watched painfully when Dagg extended the lead to five with 10 minutes to play and the victory was wrapped up seconds later when Hobbs crossed over - Dagg converted it into a full seven.
Smith's touchdown with four minutes to play was not converted by Meyer Bosman and the Highlanders went on to seal a first win of the new campaign.
Man of the match: Centre Jason Shoemark caused the Cheetahs defence all sorts of trouble, while Adam Thomson was the pick of the forwards. But we think Highlanders pivot Michael Hobbs wins this award fair and square after setting up two tries - one of them his own - and controlling the backline like a true general.
Tries: Brussow, Smith
Pens: Olivier 4
Tries: Lynn, Vainikolo, Hobbs
Cons: Hobbs, Dagg
Pens: Dagg 4
Cheetahs: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Danwel Demas, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Frans Viljoen, 7 Juan Smith (c), 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 David de Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Hennie Daniller.
Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Kenny Lynn, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 John Hardie, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Jason Macdonald, 17 Chris King, 18 Hayden Triggs, 19 Steven Setephano, 20 Sean Romans, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 James Paterson.
Date: Saturday, February 27
Venue: Vodacom Park, Bloemfontien
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)