Highlanders devastated by Lions in Dunedin

The Highlanders running onto the ground in their new jerseys.
The Highlanders running onto the ground in their new jerseys.
Highlanders player Siale Piutau running with the ball with Force David Smith tackling.
Highlanders player Siale Piutau running with the ball with Force David Smith tackling.
Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh gets some support from mum.
Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh gets some support from mum.
Devastated Highlanders come to terms with the fact their finals dreams are over, following defeat against the Force.
Devastated Highlanders come to terms with the fact their finals dreams are over, following defeat against the Force.
Jimmy Cowan looks for space as the Western Force defence closes in.
Jimmy Cowan looks for space as the Western Force defence closes in.
Adam Thomson looks to make a break during the final Super Rugby game at Carisbrook against the Force.
Adam Thomson looks to make a break during the final Super Rugby game at Carisbrook against the Force.
Jamie Mackintosh leads out the Highlanders in their controversial green jersey.
Jamie Mackintosh leads out the Highlanders in their controversial green jersey.
Lions captain Doppies La Grange being interviewed by television while a gutted Jamie Mackintosh stands to left waiting on his interview.
Lions captain Doppies La Grange being interviewed by television while a gutted Jamie Mackintosh stands to left waiting on his interview.
Highlanders player Shaun Treeby passes the ball in style against the Lions.
Highlanders player Shaun Treeby passes the ball in style against the Lions.
Jason Rutledge of the Highlanders in the thick of battle against the Blues.
Jason Rutledge of the Highlanders in the thick of battle against the Blues.
A fight breaks out on the field during the second half of the Highlanders v Lions.
A fight breaks out on the field during the second half of the Highlanders v Lions.
Highlanders number eight Nasi Manu is brought down by Blues openside flanker Luke Braid.
Highlanders number eight Nasi Manu is brought down by Blues openside flanker Luke Braid.
Highlanders player Ben Smith passing the ball with a Lions player hanging off him.
Highlanders player Ben Smith passing the ball with a Lions player hanging off him.
Blues first-five Stephen Brett on the way to scoring aginst the Highlanders.
Blues first-five Stephen Brett on the way to scoring aginst the Highlanders.
Highlanders player John Hardie runs with the ball against the Lions.
Highlanders player John Hardie runs with the ball against the Lions.
Highlanders player Jimmy Cowan about to pass the ball out against the Hurricanes.
Highlanders player Jimmy Cowan about to pass the ball out against the Hurricanes.
Blues loosehead prop Charlie Faumuina is tackled.
Blues loosehead prop Charlie Faumuina is tackled.
Hurricanes' Jayden Hayward with the ball as Highlanders' Nasi Manu looms.
Hurricanes' Jayden Hayward with the ball as Highlanders' Nasi Manu looms.
Highlanders players John Hardie and Lima Sopoaga celebrating their 13-6 win over the Hurricanes.
Highlanders players John Hardie and Lima Sopoaga celebrating their 13-6 win over the Hurricanes.
Highlanders and Hurricanes players about to engage a scrum.
Highlanders and Hurricanes players about to engage a scrum.
Highlanders player Jimmy Cowan kicks the ball against the Hurricanes.
Highlanders player Jimmy Cowan kicks the ball against the Hurricanes.
Highlanders player Ben Atiga is tackled by Hurricanes' Jayden Hayward.
Highlanders player Ben Atiga is tackled by Hurricanes' Jayden Hayward.
Ben Smith and Leila Masaga lock horns.
Ben Smith and Leila Masaga lock horns.
Nick Crosswell feels the full impact of the Chiefs defence.
Nick Crosswell feels the full impact of the Chiefs defence.
Highlander Siale Piutau competes with Chief Richard Kahui.
Highlander Siale Piutau competes with Chief Richard Kahui.
Chief Leila Masaga turns into Highlander James Patterson, as Jason Rutledge also moves in.
Chief Leila Masaga turns into Highlander James Patterson, as Jason Rutledge also moves in.
Tom Donnelly and Romana Graham contest a lineout during the Chiefs' 20-7 victory over the Highlanders.
Tom Donnelly and Romana Graham contest a lineout during the Chiefs' 20-7 victory over the Highlanders.
Highlanders players Robbie Robinson, Jamie Mackintosh and Jason Rutledge.
Highlanders players Robbie Robinson, Jamie Mackintosh and Jason Rutledge.
Tony Brown clears for the Highlanders against the Crusaders.
Tony Brown clears for the Highlanders against the Crusaders.
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg is caught in a tackle as team mate Sonny Bill Williams moves in to give support against the Highlanders.
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg is caught in a tackle as team mate Sonny Bill Williams moves in to give support against the Highlanders.
Kade Poki of the Highlanders runs with the ball against the Melbourne Rebels.
Kade Poki of the Highlanders runs with the ball against the Melbourne Rebels.
Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders is tackled against the Melbourne Rebels.
Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders is tackled against the Melbourne Rebels.
Highlanders player Ben Smith is tackled by Blues player Luke McAlister.
Highlanders player Ben Smith is tackled by Blues player Luke McAlister.
Kade Poki of the Highlanders runs with the ball against the Melbourne Rebels.
Kade Poki of the Highlanders runs with the ball against the Melbourne Rebels.
Highlanders players Matt Saunders and Adam Thomson tackle Blues player Joe Rokocoko.
Highlanders players Matt Saunders and Adam Thomson tackle Blues player Joe Rokocoko.
Ben Smith of the Highlanders makes a break against the Melbourne Rebels.
Ben Smith of the Highlanders makes a break against the Melbourne Rebels.
Highlanders player Jimmy Cowan is tackled by the Blues' Alby Mathewson and John Afoa.
Highlanders player Jimmy Cowan is tackled by the Blues' Alby Mathewson and John Afoa.
Adam Thomson of the Highlanders dives over for a try against the Cheetahs.
Adam Thomson of the Highlanders dives over for a try against the Cheetahs.
Highlanders player Ben Smith being tackled by Blues player.
Highlanders player Ben Smith being tackled by Blues player.
Colin Slade of the Highlanders passes against the Cheetahs at Carisbrook.
Colin Slade of the Highlanders passes against the Cheetahs at Carisbrook.
Adam Thomson of the Highlanders makes a break.
Adam Thomson of the Highlanders makes a break.
Ashley Johnson of the Cheetahs looks to pass against the Highlanders.
Ashley Johnson of the Cheetahs looks to pass against the Highlanders.
Sarel Pretorius of the Cheetahs is tackled against the Highlanders.
Sarel Pretorius of the Cheetahs is tackled against the Highlanders.
The Highlanders and Crusaders pack down.
The Highlanders and Crusaders pack down.
Jamie Mackintosh is congratulated by Jarrad Hoeata after scoring his try against the Brumbies.
Jamie Mackintosh is congratulated by Jarrad Hoeata after scoring his try against the Brumbies.
Matt Todd of the Crusaders is tackled by Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Matt Todd of the Crusaders is tackled by Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Nasi Manu of the Highlanders runs with the ball during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Nasi Manu of the Highlanders runs with the ball during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh runs out onto the field at Invercargill's Rugby Park.
Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh runs out onto the field at Invercargill's Rugby Park.
Zac Guilford of the Crusaders is tackled by Aaron Smith of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Zac Guilford of the Crusaders is tackled by Aaron Smith of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Brumbies player Henry Speight being tackled by Highlanders players Ben Smith, Kendrick Lynn and Siale Piutau.
Brumbies player Henry Speight being tackled by Highlanders players Ben Smith, Kendrick Lynn and Siale Piutau.
Crusaders back Israel Dagg is tackled by James Paterson of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Crusaders back Israel Dagg is tackled by James Paterson of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Tom Donnelly of the Highlanders takes the ball against the Brumbies.
Tom Donnelly of the Highlanders takes the ball against the Brumbies.
Some of the crowd starting a mexican wave at theHighlanders v Brumbies match at Invercargill's Rugby Park.
Some of the crowd starting a mexican wave at theHighlanders v Brumbies match at Invercargill's Rugby Park.
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith gets his pass away during the round 10 Super Rugby match against the Highlanders at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith gets his pass away during the round 10 Super Rugby match against the Highlanders at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders breaks through the tackle of Shaun Treeby of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match in Nelson.
Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders breaks through the tackle of Shaun Treeby of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match in Nelson.
Jimmy Cowan of the Highlanders looks to pass during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Jimmy Cowan of the Highlanders looks to pass during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Jimmy Cowan of the Highlanders feeds the scrum during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook.
Jimmy Cowan of the Highlanders feeds the scrum during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook.
Highlanders first five Tony Brown tries  to break away from a tackle by Bulls flanker Derick Kuün.
Highlanders first five Tony Brown tries to break away from a tackle by Bulls flanker Derick Kuün.
Highlanders players celebrate winning as Bulls players look on.
Highlanders players celebrate winning as Bulls players look on.
Highlanders wing Kade Poki scores a try against the Bulls.
Highlanders wing Kade Poki scores a try against the Bulls.
Highlander's halfback Jimmy Cowan clears the ball against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
Highlander's halfback Jimmy Cowan clears the ball against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
The Highlanders and Hurricanes forward packs get ready to pack down a scrum.
The Highlanders and Hurricanes forward packs get ready to pack down a scrum.
Bulls centre Wynand Olivier tries to bring down Highlanders wing Telusa Veainu.
Bulls centre Wynand Olivier tries to bring down Highlanders wing Telusa Veainu.
The players observe a minutes silence to remember those affected by the Christchurch earthquake before the round two Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Chiefs at Carisbrook.
The players observe a minutes silence to remember those affected by the Christchurch earthquake before the round two Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Chiefs at Carisbrook.
Adam Thomson of the Highlanders is tackled against the Chiefs.
Adam Thomson of the Highlanders is tackled against the Chiefs.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs is tackled by Jimmy Cowan of the Highlanders.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs is tackled by Jimmy Cowan of the Highlanders.
Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders is tackled by Mike Delany of the Chiefs.
Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders is tackled by Mike Delany of the Chiefs.
Toby Smith of the Chiefs is tackled by Josh Bekuhis of the Highlanders.
Toby Smith of the Chiefs is tackled by Josh Bekuhis of the Highlanders.
Ben Smith of the Highlanders is tackled against the Chiefs at Carisbrook.
Ben Smith of the Highlanders is tackled against the Chiefs at Carisbrook.
Kade Poki of the Highlanders in action against the Chiefs at Carisbrook.
Kade Poki of the Highlanders in action against the Chiefs at Carisbrook.
Highlanders No 6 Adam Thomson collides with Hurricane Hosea Gear going for a high ball.
Highlanders No 6 Adam Thomson collides with Hurricane Hosea Gear going for a high ball.
Highlanders halfback Jimmy Cowan makes a dive pass clearance from a ruck.
Highlanders halfback Jimmy Cowan makes a dive pass clearance from a ruck.
Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson wins a lineout cleanly during the win over the Hurricanes.
Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson wins a lineout cleanly during the win over the Hurricanes.
Sean Romans of the Highlanders passes during their Super Rugby trial match against the Blues.
Sean Romans of the Highlanders passes during their Super Rugby trial match against the Blues.
Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders passes during the Super Rugby trial match against the Highlanders.
Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders passes during the Super Rugby trial match against the Highlanders.
James Paterson of the Highlanders makes a break during their Super Rugby trial match against the Blues.
James Paterson of the Highlanders makes a break during their Super Rugby trial match against the Blues.
 Josh Bekuhis of the Highlanders is tackled during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Josh Bekuhis of the Highlanders is tackled during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Matt Todd of the Crusaders tries to score during round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Matt Todd of the Crusaders tries to score during round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Zac Guildford of the Crusaders makes a break during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Zac Guildford of the Crusaders makes a break during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Nasi Manu of the Highlanders makes a break during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Nasi Manu of the Highlanders makes a break during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Tony Brown of the Highlanders passes during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Tony Brown of the Highlanders passes during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.

The Lions stole a last-minute win at Carisbrook to put the Highlanders' play-off hopes in jeopardy.

Lock Wikus van Heerden capped of a superb performance with a game-winning try in the 80th minute as the visitors won 26-22 when it seemed as though the Highlanders would close the game out.

After leading 16-9 at halftime, the Highlanders were unable to put away a determined Lions team which defended better than a team running last in the competition.

WRESTLING MATCH: The Highlanders' Kade Poki looks to break free during their tight loss to the Lions in Dunedin.
WRESTLING MATCH: The Highlanders' Kade Poki looks to break free during their tight loss to the Lions in Dunedin.

With plenty of controversy swirling around Highlanders rugby over a jersey change to be revealed next week, the Highlanders failed to stamp any dominance on the game.

Adam Thomson was ruled out before kick-off with his rib injury ruling out a return for what would have been his 50th game for the franchise.

Nick Crosswell took his place on the side of the scrum with Southland’s No 8 Elliot Dixon to mark his comeback from a dislocated elbow.

A crowd of 5217 braved the chilly conditions in the Highlanders' penultimate game at Carisbrook before the shift to the new waterfront stadium.

The rust from the bye week was prevalent early, as they trailed 6-3 after Lima Sopoaga had kicked the opening penalty.

Lacking their trademark intensity at the breakdown and the likes of Jimmy Cowan making some uncharacteristic errors, the Highlanders looked very much a team needing to rediscover the momentum they had created before the break.

The Highlanders scored the first try of the game, a late cut from Shaun Treeby off Sopoaga exposing some lazy defence from the Lions loose forwards.

A third penalty from Elton Jantjies closed the gap to 10-9 before the Highlanders blew a chance when Jarrad Hoeata knocked on as the home team put pressure on the Lions line.

After Sopoaga had landed two more penalties to give the Highlanders a 16-9 lead, the Lions were guilty of turning down a gift after a midfield break by Doppies La Grange was followed up by Butch James throwing what should have been the last pass out over the sideline.

The best moment of the first half was a searing break from Ben Smith which started near his 22m and ended deep in Lions territory.

After Sopoaga missed a routine penalty 46 minutes in, the Lions made the home team pay four minutes later when big, bearded bruiser Josh Strauss took a quick tap metres out from the Highlanders line and swivelled his way to a try which Jantjies converted to level the scores at 16-all.

With 20 minutes to go and the teams locked at 19-all, replacement Highlanders flanker John Hardie produced a great run to within 5m of the line, but there was an ugly moment when Lions prop JC Janse Van Rensburg twisted the neck of Siale Piutau at the ruck and Piutau reacted with a punch which saw both forward packs come together for a frank discussion.

A penalty from Sopoaga with 13 minutes to go appeared to give the Highlanders the game-winning advantage but the Lions attacked in the final five minutes and were rewarded when van Heerden drove his way over.

The Highlanders now have the Force at home, with away games to the Waratahs and Blues to finish the season, meaning the challenge of getting to the play-offs just got bigger.

Highlanders 22 (Ben Smith try; Lima Sopoaga 5 pen, con) HT: 16-9

Lions 26 (Josh Strauss, Wikus van Heerden tries; Elton Jantjies 4 pen, 2 con)

The Southland Times