The playoff hopes of the Highlanders just went up in smoke, courtesy of a clinical Chiefs side, which is looming as a genuine champion contender.
The Chiefs beat the Highlanders 27-21 at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin tonight in a game of few line breaks and plenty of niggle.
The home team could not put much together on attack against a solid looking Chiefs which won the battle at the game line.
When they had the ball, which at times was not often, the Chiefs loooked more composed on attack and had the ability to recycle the ball.
On the other hand, the Highlanders struggled to put any phases together, and were guilty of moving the ball too much across the field.
They had a sniff at the end when Hosea Gear scored a try but could not get through again which would have been a great comeback from the dead.
Referee Garratt Williamson made a couple of strange rulings at the death which won no applause from the home fans. He had a loose intepretation of the offside line which did not help the spectacle at times.
With the loss the Highlanders fall out of the playoff equation while the Chiefs stay right in the mix.
Best for the Highlanders was No 8 Nasi Manu, prop Jamie Macknitosh, while second five-eighth Phil Burleigh showed some nice touches.
Robbie Robinson looked good for the Chiefs, Aaron Cruden played well on one leg, while Craig Clarke put in another honest effort.
Hooker Andrew Hore made an almost instant impact for the home side when he came on after halftime.
After Sonny Bill Williams was penalised for an ill-timed shoulder charge, which led to an ugly brawl, the Highlanders swung on to attack.
They mucked up the attacking lineout but Hore managed to burrow through a Chiefs ruck on the line and force the ball to score.
That got the Highlanders within seven points but they could not sustain the pressure and the Chiefs looked to have the game wrapped up with 20 minutes to go when they surged to the line.
But the Highlanders somehow held them up and then got a free kick from the resultant scrum.
Adam Thomson then gave away a brainless penalty in the lineout and Aaron Cruden knocked over the penalty to put his side 10 points ahead with just over 15 mintes left.
Gear did his bit but it was not to be for the home team.
The Highlanders made an absolute horror start.
After swinging on to attack, halfback Aaron Smith lost the ball at the base of a ruck.
The Chiefs then put it through the hands and Sonny Bill Williams burst up the centre.
He gave it to supporting winger Tim Nanai-Williams and the Chiefs had a try within the opening two minutes.
But the home side recovered from a shocking start and Chris Noakes slotted a handy penalty.
Cruden and Noakes then exchanged peanlties to keep the score close after a quarter of the game.
The Chiefs were looking dangerous every time they had the ball and almost went over in the corner after a fine run from the returning Robinson.
Robinson though did get over the chalk with three minutes left.
After a scrappy bit of play, the Chiefs got the ball wide and the Highlanders defence ran out of numbers of Robinson put in a fast jog over 20m to scrore.
Though Cruden could not add the extras, he kncoked over a penalty after the halftime hooter and the Chiefs went in with a handy nine point lead at the break.