Invercargill - All Blacks flank Adam Thomson grabbed a hat-trick as the Highlanders ran in seven tries in a ruthless 43-12 dismantling of the Melbourne Rebels in their Super Rugby match at Invercargill on Friday.
The hulking blindside crossed on both wings in four minutes around half-time to allow the Highlanders to break free of the Rebels and he sealed the rout by trundling over the line for his third try eight minutes from time.
Fullback Ben Smith also grabbed a brace either side of the break as the Highlanders got back to winning ways with a bonus point victory after a surprise defeat at the Brumbies last week ended their perfect start to the season.
The Rebels, who tasted victory for the first time this season last week, led for most of the opening half but ultimately their lack of possession allied to the superior power and pace of the Highlanders proved too much.
"I said to the guys I should maybe play one week on, one week off," Thomson, who missed the Brumbies match, said in a pitchside interview.
"We were disappointed last week in Canberra, we got beaten at the breakdown which is usually one of our strengths. It's good to close it out for a convincing win rather than scratching home by the odd point."
Highlander errors and the deadly accurate boot of Rebels flyhalf James O'Connor had kept the visitors ahead on the scoreboard until two minutes after the hooter sounded for the half-time break when Thomson crossed on the right wing.
The same unrelenting pressure allowed him to cross in the other corner soon after the restart and two minutes later, wing Kade Poki got reward for a fine display when he beat Rebels fullback Kurtley Beale in a footrace to put the hosts 24-12 ahead.
Skipper Jamie Mackintosh scored the fifth try before the hour mark after another energy-sapping series of attacks weakened the Rebels defence and from then on, it was all about damage limitation for the visitors.
Smith, who had opened the try-count after a neat step and offload from Poki in the first half, added his second after quick ball from attacking lineout before Thomson added the coup de grace for himself and his team.
The Highlanders picked up a full-house of five bonus points for their victory and moved to the top of both the New Zealand Conference and the Overall standings.
The Rebels left empty-handed and stayed fourth and 12th in the Australian Conference and Overall log respectively.
In next weekend' Round 7 action, the Highlanders welcome the Stormers to Dunedin, while the Rebels play the Blues in Melbourne.
15. Ben Smith, 14. Kade Poki, 13. Tamati Ellison, 12. Shaun Treeby, 11. Hosea
Gear, 10. Chris Noakes, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Nasi Manu, 7. Adam Thomson, 6. James
Haskell, 5. Jarrad Hoeata, 4. Josh Bekhuis, 3. Chris King, 2. Jason Rutledge,
1. Jamie Mackintosh (captain)
Substitutes: 16. Brayden Mitchell, 17. Ma'afu Fia, 18. Culum Retallick, 19.
Doug Tietjens, 20. Jimmy Cowan, 21. Phil Burleigh, 22. Buxton Popoali'i
15. Kurtley Beale, 14. Mark Gerrard, 13. Lachlan Mitchell, 12. Lloyd
Johansson, 11. Cooper Vuna, 10. James O`Connor, 9. Nick Phipps, 8. Gareth Delve
(captain), 7. Tom Chamberlain, 6. Jarrod Saffy, 5. Hugh Pyle, 4. Luke Jones, 3.
Laurie Weeks, 2. Adam Freier, 1. Nic Henderson
Substitutes: 16. Ged Robinson, 17. Rodney Blake, 18. Alister Campbell, 19.
Michael Lipman, 20. Nick Stirzaker, 21. James Hilgendorf, 22. Julian Huxley