The Highlanders have won a blood-and-thunder New Zealand derby 30-14 against the Hurricanes in Dunedin, with several All Blacks, most notably Waisake Naholo and Liam Squire, suggesting they are more than ready for next week's first test against France.
Naholo was immense on the right wing for the Highlanders, scoring his team's crucial fourth try which effectively sealed the win – the Highlanders' 12th in a row at home – and acting like a fourth loose forward such was his willingness to mix it among the rough stuff, and there was plenty of that.
Loose forward Squire proved he has fully recovered from his broken thumb and will be good to go against the French at Eden Park. He didn't take a backwards step either, and to be fair not many did in a match which was as ill-tempered as only these derby matches can be.
Squire spent 10 minutes in the sinbin at the end of the first half for a high shot on Julian Savea and the Hurricanes wing was extremely lucky not to visit the naughty chair himself after throwing a punch in retaliation. Only a lack of television footage saved him.
The upshot of this loss for the Hurricanes is that their dream of finishing first in the New Zealand conference above the Crusaders has taken a huge blow. Last week they had few ideas in Christchurch in conditions that suited the home side, and here on a perfectly dry pitch they failed to win enough possession in the second half to have any chance.
A victory or even a losing bonus point would have kept the pressure on the Crusaders, who are five points ahead but who have yet to serve their second bye of the season. For the Highlanders, the win keeps them in a hunt for a possible home quarter-final.
The Hurricanes' lineout was in trouble throughout, and Highlanders lock Tom Franklin deserves a lot of credit here, and once Naholo and the two Smiths, Aaron and Ben, started pulling the strings in the fourth quarter of the match it was all over.
There seemed little chance of either side running up a score in the first half thanks to the line speed from both teams, and in particular the Hurricanes, who had the early edge in the contact area and at scrum time.
Beauden Barrett, Ngani Laumape and Ben Lam looked dangerous, with centre Jordie Barrett appearing to score near the end of the first half after running in from 50m only to be called back by referee O'Keeffe for foul play from both teams which saw Squire receive his yellow card.
Incredibly, the Highlanders finished the better despite Squire's absence. There were shades of Cape Town and the second test between the All Blacks and Springboks last year when both teams kept the ball alive at the end of the first half, with Tevita Li scoring in the corner four minutes after the siren.
Aaron Smith's try, from a Ben Smith break which came out of nowhere, extended the Highlanders' narrow halftime lead. Prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen scored from a quick lineout to put the Hurricanes back in front, only for replacement prop Tyrel Lomax and Naholo to score converted tries to put it beyond reach.
Highlanders 30 (Tevita Li, Aaron Smith, Tyrel Lomax, Waisake Naholo tries; Lima Sopoaga 2 cons, 2 pens)
Hurricanes 14 (Jordie Barrett, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen tries; Beauden Barrett 2 cons)