Rarely does the first 10 seconds of a match provide a succinct summation of what's to come.

But in retrospect, when Highlanders winger Tevita Nabura danced past four Lions defenders on a 40 metre burst from the opening kickoff, it proved prophetic – not just for the Highlanders' eventual victory, but also for the type of contest that was to unfold.

Frantic, muddled, thrilling, confusing - pick your adjective and it probably applies to a game that at times made less sense than Super Rugby's mooted expansion plans.

There were missed tackles galore (62, to be precise), some scintillating attacking moments, and even the ol' rolling maul got its moment in the sun. The pendulum swung back and forth, and though it eventually fell on the Highlanders' side, it was by no means a standout win for the southerners.

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Still, while it may not have ticked all the boxes, it did check the most important one – a victory which gets the Highlanders back on track following their 38-12 thrashing by the Sharks last weekend.

A return to Forsyth Barr Stadium helped, with the Highlanders' winning streak at home now reaching 11 games. Considering the other streaks dominating the Super Rugby discourse, it's understandable how the Highlanders have somewhat fallen under the radar this season.

But, with seven wins through 10 games to sit comfortably in the playoff spots, the Highlanders' prospects look sunny enough and the home crowd would have been pleased with a decent chunk of the Highlanders' performance.

Especially impressive were the opening stages, where they raced out to a 19-3 lead. Their attack was flowing, with Lima Sopoaga dotting down from close range, Liam Coltman picking his angles perfectly to crash over, and Luke Whitelock finishing off a nifty array of offloads after some well-structured attack.

They had a helping hand from the Lions' lacklustre early defending, while the visitors were also lacking execution when attacking the Highlanders line. Their struggles persisted until just before halftime, when they crossed twice in quick succession. The second try came after they turned down an easy penalty to set up for the rolling maul, a process they would repeat to great effect in the second half; hooker Robbie Coetzee scoring on both occasions.

Unfortunately for the Lions, they couldn't plug the leaks their defence was seeping, and the Highlanders backs took full advantage. First, Waisake Naholo crossed for his 36th try in Highlanders colours – breaking Jeff Wilson's franchise record – before a magical chip and re-gather from Rob Thompson freed up Teihorangi Walden to go in untouched.

The Lions - for a long time the only overseas contender to New Zealand's Super Rugby reign – have now lost three games on the trot. While still top of South African conference, it's hard to see them mounting a major charge for the title.

Can the Highlanders? After this mixed performance, it's still too soon to say.

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Highlanders 39 (L Sopoaga, L Coltman, L Whitelock, W.Naholo, T.Walden tries; Sopoaga 4 cons, 2 pens)
Lions 27 (R Coetzee 2, H Vorster, M.Schoeman tries; E Jantjies 2 cons, pen)
HT: 19-15