Sportal.co.nz 29.Apr.2012Getty Images
The hosts looked certain to record their fourth win in nine matches this season after building a 30-9 lead heading into the final 22 minutes following tries from Coenie Oosthuizen, Andries Ferreira and Johan Goosen.
However, the Highlanders wiped out that advantage in a remarkable seven-minute purple patch when they scored 21 unanswered points through a converted try from replacement first five-eighth Chris Noakes and two from No.9 Jimmy Cowan.
That levelled the scores up at 30-30, but the Cheetahs managed to stem the onslaught by re-taking the lead in the 69th minute through a Josias Ebersohn penalty.
The Highlanders were not to be denied though and, after Noakes had drawn the visiting side level, he knocked over a 79th-minute penalty to put his side 36-33 in front - just seconds after Ebersohn had missed from in front of the posts.
That was the first time in the match that the Highlanders had been ahead and it proved decisive as the New Zealand side held on for their seventh win of the campaign.
Noakes finished with 17 points for the victors, while Mike Delany, who took the kicking duties in the first half, contributed nine points with three penalties as the Highlanders made it seven wins out of seven against the Cheetahs.
For the Cheetahs, teenage No.10 Goosen finished with 18 points from a try, four penalties and a conversion.