Winger Jona Nareki scored a hat-trick of tries and created another in a brilliant display as the Highlanders rallied to a 39-23 victory over the Chiefs in Super Rugby Aotearoa in Hamilton on Friday.
The Highlanders turned the match on its head with a three-try blitz in seven minutes at the start of the second half and held on for a bonus point win that consigned the Chiefs to a 10th consecutive Super Rugby defeat.
The Chiefs failed to notch up a victory in the first season of domestic competition last year but looked set to get their 2021 campaign off to winning start when they led 20-6 after half an hour on the back of Luke Jacobson and Damian McKenzie tries.
The tries came with Highlanders centre Patelesio Tomkinson in the sin bin and the visitors had only two minutes at full complement before co-captain Ash Dixon was also shown the yellow card.
Fijian-born flyer Nareki fired the comeback a minute later, however, swooping on a Chiefs mistake and racing 90 metres to score and cut the deficit to 20-11 at halftime.
Highlanders scrumhalf Folau Fakatava side-stepped the Chiefs defence to score the first try of the second half under the posts before Nareki got involved again in the 53rd minute.
The former sevens international fielded a kick on his own 22 and burst between two defenders before barging Brad Weber out of the way and releasing team mate Shannon Frizell to score with a pinpoint offload.
His second try followed another dazzling run through the home defence and the third was a classic winger's finish in the left corner after a slick backline move from the Highlanders, who lost their season-opener to the Crusaders last week.