A look at the Super Rugby table will show the Highlanders are flying into the new season. After beating the Chiefs in round one, they repeated the dose against the Reds in Dunedin tonight.
While the side is unbeaten to start the year, the concept that they're firing is a well-crafted illusion.
They beat the Chiefs in the dying stages of their opening clash, and in their 36-31 win over the Reds, it was another escape act Harry Houdini would have been proud of.
While the Southerners had the chance to shake of the rust from the off-season last time out, the Reds came to Dunedin after having an opening round bye. It showed on the pitch as a number of promising attacks fizzled out due to players not being on the same page, passes going astray, or issues at the lineout.
The Highlanders started their stronger of the teams as expected and despite falling behind 3-0 early, the hosts looked menacing with ball in hand. Midfielder Rob Thompson opened the scoring for the Highlanders inside of 10 minutes, which ignited their offence.
Thompson only saw 20 minutes of action after sustaining an ankle injury, but his replacement Matt Faddes picked up where Thompson left off, torching the Reds defence on a number of occasions in the first half.
With tries to Shannon Frizell and Ben Smith, the Highlanders looked well in control against a Reds side still finding their feet. However, with halfback Moses Sorovi crossing for the Reds' second try, after Chris Feauai-Sautai's 24th minute effort, at halftime the gap was just seven points.
It wasn't all pretty for the Highlanders in the opening 40 minutes. Their lineout was a big problem, their defence was at times lazy and they also saw attacks fizzle out in disappointing fashion.
Looking to set his side back on the right path, Frizell crossed for his second try early in the second half to push the Highlanders further ahead, but it only ignited the Reds.
Young midfielder Jordan Petaia took the onus to put his team on the front foot and torched the Highlanders defence time and time again. Petaia clocked up more than 100 metres with ball in hand and, with the Highlanders falling off tackles, he looked as elusive as anyone.
The Reds hit the lead midway through the second half with tries to Izack Rodda and Feao Fotuaika, forcing the Highlanders to try fight back for the second straight week.
There were no shortage of opportunities for the hosts, but some average possessions and turnovers in prime field position relieved the pressure on the Reds. However, inside the final 10 minutes, Dillon Hunt crashed over out wide to give the Highlanders the victory.
Highlanders 36 (Shannon Frizell 2, Rob Thompson, Ben Smith, Dillon Hunt tries; Josh Ioane 4 cons, pen)
Reds 31 (Chris Feauai-Sautia, Moses Sorovi, Izack Rodda, Feao Fotuaika tries; Bryce Hegarty 4 cons, pen)