Highlanders captain Nasi Manu hailed his side's "ugly win" as they moved atop the New Zealand conference with a triumph over the Chiefs on Friday.
The 29-25 win over the champions sees them go one point above the Crusaders, who have a tough away fixture at the Hurricanes on Saturday.
"It means a lot to us. We've really worked hard in the break and the result was awesome," said Manu, whose side travel to the 'Tahs next week.
"We knew the Chiefs were going to come down as defending champions - they've got a quality side - and put us under pressure. It was an ugly win but a win's a win so we're happy.
"Richard Buckman had an awesome game and our backs were inspirational."
Tries from Patrick Osborne and Ben Smith were complimented by sixteen points from Lima Sopoaga and three from replacement Hayden Parker, with the Chiefs replies coming from Dwayne Sweeney, Tim Nanai-Williams and Josh Hohneck. However, they came up short in a result that Aaron Cruden lamented.
"We thought we'd put ourselves in a fairly good position at half-time and started the second half well," said the Chiefs captain and number ten.
"We were putting phases together and putting them under pressure, then just one lapse and a team like the Highlanders will punish you on counter-attack ball."