The Highlanders put on one of the performances of the season to defeat the Blues 38-28 before a crowd of 12,888 at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin last night. Scoring four tries in the first half to claim a bonus point, while also claiming the much cherished ‘Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy’.
The home side started strongly, with the ever reliable fullback, Ben Smith getting amongst the forwards early to dive over from a ruck, scoring the first try of the game following constant pressure. Colin Slade added the conversion from out wide to give the Highlanders a 7-0 lead after 10 minutes.
Blues halfback, Piri Weepu copped an unfortunate knee to the head in the 14th minute, leaving him unconscious for a few moments before being attended by medical staff and eventually removed from the field on a stretcher.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan stated after the match that Weepu was okay, "He was knocked out and obviously the doctor was concerned about his neck. But he's walking around and talking. He can't remember much but he's in pretty good shape considering."
While Weepu was being attended, play continued, with his opposite Fumiaki Tanaka going close for a try before the Blues were penalised for not releasing him in the tackle. Colin Slade kicked the goal to make it 10-0 to the Highlanders.
Tamati Ellison added another five points to the Highlanders tally when he went through for a try, rolling his way out of a Rene Ranger tackle to dot the ball down. Slade again added the extras from out wide to push the Southerners out to a 17-0 lead with 23 minutes gone.
Ben Smith helped himself to a double, scoring his second try for the night after a solid build up from the Highlanders. Slade missed with the conversion, however the Highlanders were building a handy lead, 22-0 with 28 minutes complete.
The Highlanders grabbed a bonus point minutes later when Hosea Gear left the Blues in his wake, running it in for their fourth try of the night, finished off with a nice little dive. Slade regained his kicking form to add the extras, giving the Highlanders a healthy 29-0 lead.
The Blues were rewarded with a late first half try, thanks to a chip and chase effort from wing Waisake Naholo. Baden Kerr kicked the conversion for the visitors to give them something to smile about heading into the break. Highlanders 29-7 at halftime.
Colin Slade kicked a couple of penalties early in the second half to extended the lead to 35-7 before the Blues mounted a comeback. Rene Ranger and flanker Steven Luatua both picking up tries for the visitors, with Kerr adding the extras to bring them back into the match 35-21.
However, this was to be the Highlanders night, with the Blues causing too many errors and giving away costly penalties. Hayden Parker, who took the field for Colin Slade late in the game, kicked a penalty to give the home side a 38-21 lead with just over five minutes left to play.
After constant pressure in the final moments, the Highlanders went close to adding another try, although handling errors gave the Blues a chance with the ball which they made the most of. Jamie Mackintosh received a late yellow card, followed by a big applause by the Highlanders faithful in the stands.
Charles Piutau made a good break after the fulltime hooter, before Luke Braid grabbed a consolation try which also gave them a bonus point for their efforts. Baden Kerr kicked the goal to bring the scores to 38-28. The Highlanders now take a break from competition due to the June Internationals between the All Blacks and France, with their next game scheduled for June 29 against the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin

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