'Landers tame fumbling Lions
The 27-39 defeat means the Lions return to South Africa with one win from four matches.
The Lions still top the South African conference and found themselves second on the overall log.
The win is the Highlanders 11th straight win at Forsyth Barr Stadium as their last loss in the stadium was in March 2017.
Fresh from a defeat to the Sharks in South Africa, the win could not come at a better time for the Highlanders who take on the Waratahs next week.
It was an entertaining affair, both sides opted to employ their expansive brand of rugby which saw nine tries being scored – five belonging to Highlanders and the rest to the Lions.
Lima Sopoagao opened the scoring after just five minutes of play. The flyhalf scooped up the loose pass from Tom Franklin and and crossed over the line for the five points. Sopoaga added the extras for the 7-0 lead.
Minutes later the Lions narrowed the deficit courtesy of a Elton Jantjies penalty. But the hosts continued to take control of proceedings and extended the lead when scrumhalf Kaune Hammington's ruck pass found Liam Coltman, who burst over the line for the try. Again Sopoage made sure to add the successful conversion.
With 10 minutes left of the first stanza, Highlanders' Luke Whitelock got his name on the scoresheet. The no.8 crashed over after great interplay by centre Rob Thompson and Elliot Dixon.
However the Lions finished the first half the stronger. The visitors won their own line-out and shifted the ball to the centre fo the field which set-up a perfect platform for centre Harold Voster's try. Jantjie added the extras.
There were still time for another set-piece attack which the Lions took full advantage of. The side again had an attacking line-out and their good driving maul got hooker Robbie Coetzee over the line, trailing 15-19 at the break.
Halftime restored the Highlanders' mojo and while a turnover conceded by Walden could have had disastrous consequences when replacement forward Lourens Erasmus raced downfield with the ball, the opposite proved the case.
Instead, the ball came the way of the Highlanders with Walden redeeming himself by getting a turnover ball out to Ben Smith on the right flank, he had plenty of space and when challenged had Waisake Naholo on his inside to score the try.
But the Highlanders were guilty of infringing in their own territory creating the chance for the inevitable lineout and drive in the 48th minute and Coetzee was able to claim his second try.
The Highlanders hit back scoring their fifth try courtesy of Teihorangi Walden.
Sopoaga converted for the 33-20 lead but the Lions did not surrender and kept their hopes alive when Marnus Schoeman burst over for a try in the 74th minute.
Unfortunately for the visitors, the Highlanders were rewarded with two successful penalties from Sopoaga and sealed their eleventh consecutive home victory.
Man of the match: There were the usual suspects like Ben Smith and Lima Sopoaga from the Highlanders. While Lions' replacement Marnus Schoeman was instrumental when he entered the field. However for his impeccable workrate and overall performance our nod goes to Highlanders no.8 Luke Whitelock.
Tries: Sopoaga, Coltman, Whitelock, Naholo, Walden,
Cons: Sopoaga 4
Pens: Sopoaga 2
Tries: Voster, R Coetzee 2. Schoeman
Cons: Jantjies 2
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Tei Walden, 11 Tevita Nabura, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Sio Tomkinson.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Albertus Smith, 7 Franco Mostert (captain), 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Dreyer, Jacobie Adriaanse, Lourens Erasmus, Marnus Schoeman, Dillon Smit, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Sylvian Mahuza.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)