The Highlanders maintained their perfect start to the Super Rugby season with a thrilling 25-17 derby win over defending champions the Crusaders, while the Brumbies saw off the Sharks on Saturday.

Scott Robertson's Crusaders were beaten only once when they won the title last year, but have already gone down twice in the early stages of this season and sorely missed a host of New Zealand internationals in Dunedin.

The Highlanders have won three out of three in a dream beginning to Aaron Mauger's tenure after rising to the occasion at the Forsyth Barr Stadium, outscoring their rivals by three tries to two to go top of the New Zealand conference.

The holders drew first blood when George Bridge burst through to round off a well-worked move with the opening try, but Liam Coltman powered over before the lively Lima Sopoaga side-stepped a couple of tackles to touch down.

Mitchell Hunt was on target with a penalty to reduce the deficit to 14-10 at the break after fly-half Sopoaga converted for a second time, and it appeared to be advantage the Crusaders when Waisake Naholo was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Heiden Bedwell-Curtis.

But the Highlanders extended their lead despite being a man down, Elliot Dixon taking a long pass from Aki Seiuli to score their third try and Sopoaga added two penalties in the last 15 minutes following the Crusaders' second five-pointer from Bryn Hall.

The Brumbies were 24-17 winners over the Sharks in their first home match of the campaign.

Wharenui Hawera scored 14 points from the tee, while Lausii Taliauli and Henry Speight dotted down in a second victory of the season for Dan McKellar's men.

Tries from Thomas du Toit and Lukhanyo Am were in vain for the Sharks, who have won only one of their first four matches.