The Highlanders have produced a late blitz, with fullback Matt Faddes completing a hat-trick of tries, to beat Super Rugby strugglers the Southern Kings 48-18 in Port Elizabeth.
The Kings, seeking just their third win of the season, had closed to within two points before the Highlanders, who were resting most of their All Blacks, touched down four times in the last 12 minutes.
Jack Wilson got the first when set up by fellow wing Patrick Osborne’s deft offload.
Osborne then turned scorer, the beneficiary of a pin-point cross kick from first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga.
Faddes secured his third five-pointer before replacement prop Aki Seiuli got the defending champions’ seventh try after the hooter.
The bonus-point victory on Sunday morning (NZT) kept the Highlanders in a play-off spot with two rounds to go.
Of their seven players involved in New Zealand’s Test series against Wales, only two – Sopoaga, who started, and loose forward Liam Squire, who came off the bench – took the field.
The Highlanders next face the Jaguares and they will be joined in Argentina by the rest of their All Blacks contingent – Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Aaron Smith and Elliot Dixon.
The Kings had midfielder Shane Gates yellow-carded in the 17th minute for a tip-tackle on lock Tom Franklin and the Highlanders took advantage of the extra man as Faddes scored.
The Kings struck just before halftime when wing Wandile Mjekevu touched down.
Faddes’ second five-pointer and a try to flanker Dan Pryor gave the Highlanders some breathing space early in the second half.
Kings skipper Steven Sykes offered the home fans hopes of an upset, the lock grabbing a converted try that made the score 20-18.
But the Highlanders produced their emphatic finish to blow out the score.