Mutual respect between competing Highlanders halfbacks Aaron Smith and Folau Fakatava was central to the hopes of creating an ongoing legacy for the side in their position.

While Fakatava scored the match-winning try against the Reds for a 35-30 win in Dunedin to keep the side's top-eight hopes alive, he said the try was for Smith.

The bond between the two was part of the reason that ensured Fakatava stayed in the south instead of taking up other offers in Super Rugby Pacific. Smith told him to play to his strengths, and that was behind his producing the match-winning try.

Fakatava said he went out on Friday to substitute for Smith and to do his best. The coaches trust him to control the game whenever he goes onto the field and to take any opportunities he sees.

"It was really special to get the win for the boys who are leaving.

"On my way to the ruck, I saw their No7 [flanker] was behind the ruck but he was making his way to the open side, and I thought if I looked that side he would keep going. So, there was one guy there, it was two-on-one and Marino [Mikaele-Tu'u] would score or me. It just happened like that."

He couldn't remember what he first said to Smith after the game, but once recovered, he told him the try was for him. It had been a team try, he said.

Through the five years Fakatava had been with the Highlanders, Smith told him that Fakatava was taking over when he left.

"That's the legacy. I can't play as good as he played so for me it's to build my own legacy and do my best and, hopefully, make him proud when he is overseas."

While signed with the Highlanders until 2025, he said that in 2020 he was sought by both the Crusaders and Hurricanes and was close to going to the Crusaders because he liked how they played and their style would greatly help his game.

But advice from his father in Tonga backed the deep-down feeling that Fakatava had that the Highlanders gave him a chance when no one else did.

Smith had also been a factor.

"He didn't try to teach me how to play. Instead, he pushed me to play to my strengths and to keep doing what I had been doing. It was a buzz having grown up watching him play, and then we were helping each other.

"He looks after his body and is still playing like he's 21."

While his latest challenge could be going up against Blues halfback Finlay Christie, Fakatava said all the halfbacks in New Zealand were playing well, and it was always good playing them. They were all chasing a place in the Rugby World Cup squad, and he said all he could do about that was continue to try and play his best.