All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith came off the bench to score a try with four minutes remaining as the 14-man Highlanders rallied to beat the Chiefs 30-27 Friday in the opening match of the Super Rugby season.
The Dunedin-based Highlanders looked to have little chance of victory as they trailed 27-20 after replacement Patelesio Tomkinson was shown a red card for a shoulder charge with 13 minutes remaining.
But the Highlanders narrowed the Chiefs' lead with a penalty in the 73rd minute and Aaron Smith skirted a ruck three minutes later to snatch a win for the Highlanders against the odds.
"We just scraped in," Highlanders captain Ben Smith said.
"I think our reserves who came on added a lot of impact and really helped us to play with more speed and it really helped having those guys on the bench."
Smith was non-committal on the red card decision.
"I didn't really see it properly on the big screen," he said. "The ref's decision is final so you've just got to roll with it."
The Highlanders scored the first try of the 2019 season after holding the ball for almost all of the first 15 minutes.
After battering the Chiefs' line for most of that time, they finally broke through the defense with a try to Pari Pari Parkinson.
But the Chiefs seized control from that point and two tries to winger Etene Nanai-Seturo, on debut, helped them to a 19-10 lead at halftime and a 24-13 lead after 49 minutes.
Canadian international Tyler Ardron also scored a first-half try for the Chiefs who held most of the middle period of the game.
An error by veteran flyhalf Stephen Donald, who came off the bench for the Chiefs, helped the Highlanders claw their way back into the match.
Donald missed touch and the Highlanders counter-attacked, creating a try for Shannon Frizell with almost his first touch of the ball.
That cut the Chiefs lead to four points but they pulled away again to seven points with a Donald penalty before the Highlanders finished more strongly.
"It was disappointing not to come away with a win after the lead we took in at halftime," Chiefs captain Brodie Retallick said.
"But credit to the Highlanders, they came back and executed and we didn't quite get it right."