Beaten 61-3 by the eventual competition winners last year, the win represented a remarkable turnaround while also seeing the champions having lost two of three starts in 2023.
The Chiefs remained top of the points table, two points ahead of the Brumbies, with the Blues and Hurricanes two points back.
Chiefs 28 Highlanders 7
The Highlanders staunched their flow of defensive lapses to push the Chiefs hard in Hamilton but paid the price for lack of discipline. The 50th-minute sin-binning of flanker Shannon Frizell provided the Chiefs with scoreboard security. They had opened with a clever switch play between halfback Brad Weber and first five-eighths Damian McKenzie that provided quality ball for a flying entry from the blindside wing by Etene Nanai-Seturo to break the first line of defence and run in the opening try after five minutes. But they only managed to add a penalty goal to McKenzie before the turn.
He added another before Frizell's departure. But instead of taking the points, the Chiefs ran the ball, and fullback Shaun Stevenson capped a short pass from second five-eighths Alex Nankiville to break through an opening, swerve around a defender and cross for a try. Two minutes later, Weber sniped around a ruck, ran 40 metres and from the ruck, loose forward replacement Samipeni Finau rubbed more blood into the wound. An offside call against Chiefs flanker Sam Cane evened the numbers up for two minutes, and wing Mosese Dawai got over from the scrum taken for Cane's penalty. But six minutes from the end, the Chiefs sealed their win with slick hands, a timely run from Nanai-Seturo from the blindside to create space which allowed Stevenson space to cross for his second try.
Chiefs 28 (Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson 2, Samipeni Finau tries, Damian McKenzie 2 pen, con) Highlanders 7 (Mosese Dawai try, Freddie Burns con) HT: 8-0
Rebels 34 Waratahs 27
The home team, the Rebels, got off the bottom of the points table when scoring an upset win over the Waratahs on Friday. The Waratahs started well, but when wing Nemani Nadolo had a try ruled out, touch in goal, the Rebels took advantage. Wing Lachie Anderson put a kick ahead for centre Reece Hodge to run onto to score the first try. Moments later, the roles were reversed when Hodge's kick was secured by Anderson and cleverly placed for a second try. No8 Richard Hardwick was placed in the backline to cross six minutes from halftime for the home team to lead 17-6 at the turn.
The Waratahs showed better passing consistency to string together their opening try, scored by wing Mark Nawaqanitawase, six minutes into the second half. Eight minutes later, replacement loose forward substitute Charlie Gamble burrowed his way over from a goal line ruck to give the Waratahs the lead. But the Rebels were unfazed. Heading into the final quarter, prop Matt Gibbon was in the line to unleash a dummy to run between the posts and score, while three minutes later, first five-eighths Carter Gordon stepped through to score in the same position. Replacement forward Taleni Seu picked up a consolation try for the Waratahs at the final whistle that at least gave them a loser's bonus point.
Rebels 34 (Reece Hodge, Lachie Anderson, Richard Hardwick, Matt Gibbon, Carter Gordon tries; Hodge 3 con, pen) Waratahs 27 (Mark Nawaqnaitawase, Charlie Gamble, Taleni Seu tries; Tane Edmed 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 17-6
Drua 25 Crusaders 24
Crusaders' forward power dominated the first 25 minutes in Lautoka, with hooker Quentin MacDonald scoring first from a lineout maul. Lock Sam Whitelock looked to score the second but lost the ball in touching down for the try. However, in the resulting play, he secured the lineout ball that preceded MacDonald's second mauling try. Uncontrolled Crusaders' ball provided Drua centre Iosefo Masi to show his skill on the pick-up and to run 50 metres to open the home scoring. Five minutes before halftime, it appeared a stunning break by halfback Frank Lomani, from a tap penalty 50m out, had produced a try for second five-eighths Apisalome Vota, but he lost the ball before grounding it. While the try was missed, the Drua intent was obvious.
Seven minutes into the second half, the Drua drew level when fullback Ilaisa Droasese crossed from a goal-mouth ruck. Then, into the final quarter, wing Joseva Tamani took a long pass from Lomani to score out wide. Then, with flanker Kitione Salewa out in the backline, he took a long pass, made ground ahead and then put wing Eroni Sau down the sideline to extend the lead to 22-12. With seven minutes left, wing Sevu Reece pulled five points back for the Crusaders. Reverting to their lineout maul, the Crusaders pulled level with replacement hooker Ioane Moananu scoring. First five-eighths Fergus Burke landed an outstanding sideline conversion to claim a two-point lead. The Drua attacked to secure a breakdown penalty which replacement Kemu Valetini landed to send the Lautoka crowd into delirious delight.
Fijian Drua 25 (Iosefo Masi, Joseva Tamani, Eroni Sau, Ilaisa Droasese tries; Teti Tela con; Kemu Valetini pen) Crusaders 24 (Quentin MacDonald 2, Ioane Moananu, Sevu Reece tries; Fergus Burke 2 con). HT: 5-12
Hurricanes 19 Blues 25
Determined to improve on their round two showing against the Brumbies, the Blues, in Wellington, took 19 minutes to score their first try, from lock Patrick Tuipulotu driving ahead off a ruck. The Hurricanes responded quickly, prop Tyrel Lomax completing a 360 turn to round out good passes from hooker Dane Coles and flanker Du'Plessis Kirifi off a ruck to score. The home lost lock Isaia Leawere to the sin-bin, and the Blues took advantage with wing Caleb Clarke scoring with five minutes off the half left, and then on halftime No8 Hoskins Sotutu capped his first-half effort when taking a reverse pass from fullback Stephen Perofeta to get the ball over the line in a tackle.
Restored to 15, the Hurricanes made the first of their counters six minutes into the second half when halfback Cam Roigard found a gap on the blindside and raced through to link with wing Salesi Rayasi running the angle to score. Lock Cameron Suafoa was sin-binned for a high tackle a minute later. Then in the 49th minute, two clever passes, the first by Rayasi out of the back of the hand to No8 Devan Flanders, who over-armed a pass before rolling into touch, allowed fullback Josh Moorby to get the ball and then roll the ball to get enough of the goal line on it to convince the TMO he had scored. A Perofeta penalty goal with nine minutes left gave the Blues a six-point lead. Under intense pressure, their defences held, and a counter-ruck beside their goalposts, allowed them to kick the ball out to claim their win.
Hurricanes 19 (Tyrel Lomax, Salesi Rayasi, Josh Moorby tries: Jordie Barrett 2 con) Blues 25 (Patrick Tuipulotu, Caleb Clarke, Hoskins Sotutu tries; Stephen Perofeta 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 5-22
Brumbies 23 Reds 17
It took the Brumbies 26 minutes to find a hole in the Reds' defence, a gaping gap as it turned out, and halfback Nic White took the chance to score the opening try – he may never score an easier one. With first five-eighths Noah Lolesio adding a conversion and two penalty goals, the Brumbies went to the break leading 13-0.
The Reds showed more combination at the start of the second half, with No8 Harry Wilson driving across after a strong drive at the line by second five-eighths Hunter Paisami. Moments after Lolesio landed a penalty goal to extend the lead to 16-7, Reds replacement first five-eighths James O'Connor lobbed a blindside chip to the corner where fullback Jordan Petaia rose highest to claim the ball to score. The Brumbies reverted to their lineout maul, and it was hooker Lachlan Lonergan who burst out of the pack to score. A set-piece play saw O'Connor throw a long pass to Petaia, waiting on the flank. He stepped inside a defender and scored.
Brumbies 23 (Nic White, Lachlan Lonergan tries; Noah Lolesio 2 con, 3 pen) Reds 17 (Jordan Petaia 2, Harry Wilson tries; James O'Connor con). HT: 13-0
Force 21 Moana 18
Moana Pasifika made a dream start by running the kick-off from their 22m line and inter-passing to beat respective markers to provide centre Fine Inisi with the run-in to score after 30 seconds. The Force kept in touch via halfback Bryce Hegarty's goal-kicking boot with two penalty goals. But Moana Pasifika's forward power came to light with a rolling maul leading to a try for hooker Samiuela Moli. Five minutes before the break, the Force responded in kind through hooker Folau Fainga'a.
The visitors lost lock Mike McKee, who had his yellow card upgraded to red for head contact in a tackle in the middle stages of the half. But Moana Pasifika extended their lead to five points after first five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie landed his second penalty goal. Fullback Chase Tiatia joined the line to give wing George Poolman a perfect chance, which he took, to score in the corner to level the scores. The Force lost Ollie Callen to the sin-bin with eight minutes to play. But they were undeterred and produced a post-full-time scrum underneath the Moana Pasifika goalposts to earn a penalty goal chance which Hegarty converted to secure a win – the only time they led in the game.
Force 21 (Folau Fainga'a, George Poolman tries; Bryce Hegarty con, 3 pen) Moana Pasifika 18 (Fine Inisi, Samiuela Moli tries; Lincoln McClutchie con, 2 pen). HT: 13-15