If you can guarantee one thing in a New Zealand Super Rugby derby, it's that you're going to see a physical game of football.

And as the Highlanders and Chiefs played out a 31-31 draw, the injury toll told the story.

It was a rough night for both sides under the roof of Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium as both lost key players through the exchange – with none more concerning than Highlanders fullback Ben Smith.

Smith was the final casualty in the war between sides fighting to remain relevant in the playoff race. The 75-test All Black suffered a knee injury as well as a head knock that saw blood line his face inside the final 10 minutes of the contest; a worrying sight for All Blacks selectors who have already lost Damian McKenzie for this year's World Cup.

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Running at speed in the open field, Smith went down awkwardly after slipping into a front-on tackle from Chiefs loose forward Luke Jacobson. As Smith slipped, his leg straightened and he couldn't regain his footing before being taken to ground.

However, Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger had promising injury news to report.

"He's got a hamstring strain, he's also got a good laceration on his chin, so he's getting stitched up. But he's got a strain there - we'll know a bit more in the next couple of days.

"Structurally, he's fine, it's just a soft tissue [injury]."

An injured Ben Smith of the Highlanders. Photo / Photosport
An injured Ben Smith of the Highlanders. Photo / Photosport

He was the second of the Highlanders' All Blacks injury concerns after lock Jackson Hemopo began limping, although he went on to play the full 80 minutes.

On the other side of the field, the already injury-riddled Chiefs lost key loose forward Lachlan Boshier inside the opening 20 minutes, and he was followed by lock Michael Allardice 10 minutes later.

Both sides will have to assess players in the coming week, with each probably feeling a share of the points was not just reward for the carnage.

On the plus side for the Highlanders, Josh Ioane might not be a household name outside the lower South Island but he's going the right way about getting there.

The young first five-eighth played a starring role for the Highlanders as they pushed out to a big lead, only to be chased down in the dying stages.

The 23-year-old did everything Mauger could have hoped for in the match, showing a strong kicking game both in play and from the tee, and proved he's more than capable of putting the foot down with ball in hand.

He opened the scoring in the eighth minute after running a great line to put his defenders in two minds before crashing over.

Between Ioane and halfback Aaron Smith, the Highlanders were getting great output from their playmakers and were able to dominate the early territory and possession as a result.

A breakaway try to Brad Weber saw the Chiefs draw level at seven points apiece but Ben Smith gave the Highlanders their deserved lead back 10 minutes later.

Ahead at halftime, the Highlanders looked poised to run away with an important win in the wider context of the season. Instead, the Chiefs put the foot down.

The visitors turned around the match in the second 40 minutes with their season arguably on the line. With a late double to reserve prop Angus Ta'avao and a try to Tyler Ardron, the Chiefs stole the draw at the death.

Highlanders 31 (Josh Ioane, Ben Smith, Matt Faddes, James Lentjes tries; Ioane 4 cons, pen)
Chiefs 31 (Angus Ta'avao 2, Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Tyler Ardron tries; Marty McKenzie 3 cons)
HT: 12-10