Replacement Teariki Ben-Nicholas scored deep into additional time for the Highlanders to end the Brumbies’ well-documented home run.
Despite being outscored by three tries to two, the Highlanders won the thrilling Round Three match 23-22 in Canberra on Saturday.
It ended the Brumbies’ 11-game winning run at home, as the Highlanders made it five straight victories against the ACT men.
Brumbies hooker Folau Fainga’a scored a hat-trick of rolling maul tries, but it wasn’t enough as they failed to take advantage of a yellow card in the second half.
Highlanders wing Patelesio Tomkinson was extremely lucky to avoid a red card after making no attempt to wrap his arms as his shoulder made contact with Tom Banks’ head in a tackle.
Referee and former Super Rugby player Nic Berry deemed the initial contact shoulder to shoulder and only opted for the sin-bin in the 45th minute, but the replays didn’t look good.
The Highlanders hung tough before Teariki Ben-Nicholas crashed over next to the posts after the siren before Josh Ioane slotted the match-sealing conversion.
The Brumbies were forced to make two late changes with Irae Simone and Darcy Swain ruled out with a virus which saw Caderyn Neville and Lenny Ikitau start.
Lock Nick Frost came onto the bench and 18-year-old former schoolboy sensation Reesjan Pasitoa became one of the youngest players in Brumbies history in the 72nd minute.
It was all the Highlanders early and Ioane slotted a simple penalty to give the visitors a 3-0 lead after five minutes.
But the Brumbies settled and scored on their first attacking opportunity inside the Highlanders 22-metre as Fainga’a crossed for his first in wet conditions.
Consecutive penalties saw the Brumbies earn another five-metre line-out and Fainga’a, the franchise’s leading try-scorer last season, celebrated his second try on 30 minutes.
But the Highlanders immediately hit back from the kick-off when Noah Lolesio was charged down by Jona Nareki who regathered and scored.
Ioane slotted another penalty and the Highlanders took a 13-12 lead into the break before picking up where they left off with another three-pointer in the 42nd minute.
The Brumbies were kept scoreless with their man advantage as rookie five-eighth Lolesio endured a forgettable evening.
Hat-trick hero Fainga’a scored his third and a Ryan Lonergan-penalty made it 22-16 in the 74th minute.
The Brumbies had the ball with 15 seconds remaining but the Highlanders won a ruck penalty before breaking the hearts of most of the 7270 fans.
For the Brumbies:
Tries: Fainga’a 3
Cons: Lolesio, Lonergan
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Nareki, Ben-Nicholas
Cons: Ioane 2
Pens: Ioane 3
Yellow cards: Sio Tomkinson (Highlanders, 45 – foul play, should charge), Murray Douglas (Brumbies, 80 – cynical foul, driving early in the line-out)
15 Tom Banks, 14 Solomone Kata, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11
Tom Wright, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Will Miller, 6
Rob Valetini, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Murray Douglas, 3 Allan Alaalatoa
(captain), 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Reesjan Pasitoa, 23 Andy Muirhead.
Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Sio
Tomkinson, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Josh Ioane, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch
Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 James Lentjes (captain), 6
Shannon Frizell, 5 Jesse Parete, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2
Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Conan O’Donnell, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Teihorangi Walden, 23 Teariki Ben-Nicholas.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Damon Murphy (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)