The Highlanders' streak of defending home territory against Australian opposition has ended at 12, with the Rebels winning in Dunedin for the first time in their history.
Dealt a 28-22 defeat, the Highlanders suffered further, with captain James Lentjes set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering a nasty leg injury half an hour into the contest.
After making a tackle, Lentjes was attempting to get over the ball to force a turnover but was steamrolled at the cleanout by Rebels lock Matt Philip. Lentjes' foot got trapped as he was driven backwards.
As Lentjes writhed in pain on the ground, play was quickly stopped as medical staff attended to the Highlanders flanker, while players from both teams stood, hands on head.
It was a blow for a team already on a low, trailing 21-7 after a dismal start.
The Rebels were strong out of the gates, dominating the opening exchanges both in territory and possession. Missing a few early chances, the visitors eventually crossed inside the first 10 minutes through midfielder Billy Meakes, followed soon after by hooker Anaru Rangi from a lineout drive.
The Highlanders lifted after the opening 15 minutes but when a pass went to ground inside the Rebels' 22, winger Andrew Kellaway scooped it up and ran 60m to extend the visitors' lead.
Ahead 21-0, the Rebels were well on their way to a first win in Dunedin. But with Highlanders winger Josh McKay and halfback Aaron Smith scoring the next two tries, the hosts were somehow back in the hunt at halftime.
A second runaway try to Kellaway – this time intercepting a pass thrown by Smith – pushed the lead to 14 points again and while the Highlanders hit back through Scott Gregory, there was little else for them to celebrate in the second half.
Soon after scoring, Gregory was sent to the sin bin for undercutting an opponent attempting to catch a high ball. He was joined on the sidelines by Meakes, shown a yellow card after repeated infringements by the Rebels.
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While the hosts had opportunities to win late in the game, they struggled to make anything of their chances. That was made more difficult when winger Jona Nareki became the third player sent to the bin – also for undercutting an opponent.
In the end, the Rebels were able to force a late error as the Highlanders looked to launch one final attack after the hooter had sounded, to close out a historic win.
Rebels 28 (Andrew Kellaway 2, Billy Meakes, Anaru Rangi tries; Matt Toomua 4 cons)
Highlanders 22 (Josh McKay, Aaron Smith, Scott Gregory tries; Josh Ioane 2 cons, pen)