The Highlanders have taken down a brave Moana Pasifika 35-21 in Dunedin.

Coming off the back of a one-win season, the visitors came out firing in Tama Umaga’s first game in charge.

Tongan international William Havili kicked two early penalties before Highlanders' new recruit Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens scored the opening try of the game in the 15th minute.

The former Blue was exceptional on his club debut, showcasing the explosiveness that saw him emerge on NZ Sevens selectors’ radars as a teenager.

Prop Saula Ma'u scored the Highlanders' second 10 minutes later as the hosts looked to run away with the game before a yellow card to lock Fabian Holland flipped the momentum.

The yellow card allowed counterpart Jacob Norris to cross the line just after 30 minutes and when Nigel Ah Wong scored near the posts, the visitors had the 18-14 lead heading into the break.

Havili’s third penalty extended the lead before Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens made his mark with his second try of the night.

It took a Pasifika foundation player to break the deadline for the Highlanders when Timoci Tavatavanawai gave the home side the lead after 60 minutes.

Both teams felt the physical nature of the game before a great team try sealed the win for the hosts.

It started with a break from centre Sam Gilbert from just outside his own 22 before finding winger Jona Nareki.

Nareki’s offload to Folau Fakatava allowed the scrumalf to deliver a great flick pass to captain Billy Harmon, with Gilbert there to seal the win with nine minutes to go.

The try was enough to earn a bonus point as the Highlanders turn their focus towards the Blues next Friday at Super Round.

"How good to be back. Super Rugby's back," Highlanders skipper Harmon said after the win.

"Crowd was pumping, The Zoo was going off and we got the win so no better way to start our season."

Moana Pasifika will meanwhile prepare for a fierce battle with fellow Pacific-based side Fijian Drua, who went down to the Blues earlier in the day.

HIGHLANDERS (1-15): Daniel Lienert-Brown, Henry Bell, Saula Ma'u, Pari Pari Parkinson, Fabian Holland, Sean Withy, Billy Harmon (c), Hugh Renton, Folau Fakatava, Rhys Patchell, Jona Nareki, Sam Gilbert, Tanielu Tele'a, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens

RESERVES: Jack Taylor, Ayden Johnstone, Jermaine Ainsley, Oliver Haig, Nikora Broughton, Nathan Hastie, Cameron Millar, Jonah Lowe

PASIFIKA (1-15): James Lay (c), Sama Malolo, Sione Mafileo, Tom Savage, Samuel Slade, Miracle Faiilagi, Alamanda Motuga, Lotu Inisi, Ereatara Enari, William Havili, Viliami Fine, Julian Savea, Pepesane Patafilo, Nigel Ah Wong, Danny Toala

RESERVES: Samiuela Moli, Abraham Pole, Suetena Asomua, Allan Craig, Jacob Norris, Aisea Halo, D'Angelo Leuila, Anzleo Tuitavuki

Referee: Brendon Pickerill

Assistant Referees: James Mabey, Marcus Playle