The Highlanders recorded the biggest ever win in their Super Rugby history with 55-6 victory over the Force in Perth on Saturday.
The result represents their highest ever points total outside of New Zealand and means the Highlanders move within two points of the third-placed Chiefs in the New Zealand Conference.
The Highlanders are now on 41 points with the Chiefs and Hurricanes on 43 points but the latter leading because of a superior points difference.
Tries from Tevita Li, Patrick Osborne, Rob Thompson (2), Dillon Hunt, Richard Buckman and Aki Seiuli (2) for the Highlanders meant the Force missed a chance to jump to second on the Australia Conference.
It was a solid performance from the away side and shows their strength in depth as they left Aaron Smith, Waisake Naholo and a fit-again Lima Sopoaga out of the starting lineup.
It is their sixth win in a row against Australian opposition and the Aussie sides have still failed to win against a New Zealand outfit in Super Rugby this season.
The Highlanders have now made it eight wins in a row and are miles ahead of the competition along with the other New Zealand sides barring the Blues.
Li definitely looked as if he had something to prove and was keen to involve himself by coming off the right wing, enjoying a good game in place of the suspended Naholo.
Marty Banks, as usual, gave a masterclass in kicking from the tee while the Highlanders ran in seven tries to the Force’s nil.
It was a cagey opening twenty minutes as both sides kept it tight. A Banks penalty was the only real action of the first quarter.
But the Highlanders began to assert their dominance more and more. Good hands from Malakai Fekitoa and Matt Faddes created the space for Li on the right wing to dot down. Banks converted to make the score 10-0 in the Highlanders’ favour after 21 minutes.
After the Highlanders were punished for being offside, Force scrum-half Ian Prior added the three points from the tee.
Prior soon added another three to cut the deficit to four after his forwards won a morale-boosting scrum-penalty.
From an attacking scrum the Highlanders went for the try-line but Bill Meakes stole it on the ground for the Force. But in his attempt to get the ball away, his errant pass was pounced on by Seiuli who cruised over from close range and could barely believe his luck.
Semisi Masirewa was then sin-binned for a deliberate knockdown by referee Shuhei Kubo before the sides went into the interval with the Force 17-6 down.
Shortly after the interval, Osborne sold the Force defence with a dummy before showing searing pace to run through under the posts from his own try-line. Banks converted to make the score 24-6.
Richie Arnold was then given a yellow card for a shoulder charge on Banks long after the fly-half had passed the ball.
The Highlanders just kept getting over the advantage-line before Seiuli bumped off Force scrum-half Kayne Hammington to grab his second.
Li then turned provider when he sucked in three defenders out on the right by stepping inside and then produced a sublime basketball pass for Thompson to cruise through and dot down in the 60th minute. Banks added a wonderful conversion from out on the touchline to make it 38-6
Thompson then turned provider himself after scything through the Force defence and offloading for Hunt to cruise in under the posts.
The seventh Highlanders try came from a long pass from Bill Meakes that saw Richard Buckman intercept and run the distance to score. That was Meakes’ second intercept pass of the night.
The Highlanders had an attacking scrum in the Force 22 metre line in the final play of the game. The Force stole it and went wide but they dropped the ball and Rob Thompson pounced to score his second of the game.
Pens: Prior 2
Yellow Cards: Masirewa, Arnold
Tries: Li, Seiuli 2, Osborne, Thompson 2, Hunt, Buckman
Cons: Banks 5