The Highlanders gave their supporters something to smile about after claiming a 38-28 win over the Blues on Saturday.
The Highlanders gave their supporters something to smile about after claiming a 38-28 win over the Blues in Dunedin on Saturday.
The result, which was only their second victory of the season, also meant they retained the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy.
The home side started the match like a house on fire, and after spending most of the early stages camped inside the Blues half they were rewarded in the 10th minute when Ben Smith spotted a gap at a ruck close to the try-line and squeezed over for the game's opening try.
Colin Slade added the conversion and for the rest of the half it was the Dunedin-based side who dominated proceedings.
The Blues suffered a major setback when Piri Weepu was forced to leave the field due to severe concussion in the 15th minute. The scrum-half was knocked out cold when he received an accidental knee to his head after a barnstorming run from Mose Tuiali'i.
The Highlanders' early dominance continued when Tamati Ellison scored their second try in the 23rd minute after running onto a well-timed pass from Slade close to the Blues' try-line.
Five minutes later Smith got in for his second five-pointer after jinxing his way past a copule of defenders and the hosts clinched their try-scoring bonus point in the 33rd minute when Hosea Gear dotted down after Slade and Tuiali'i combined well in the build-up.
With the score at 29-0, the Highlanders were buzzing but on the stroke of half-time the Blues got their first points on the board when Waisake Naholo capitalised on a collision between Trent Renata and Jarrad Hoeata, who were attempting to field a kick inside their half.
Naholo pounced on the loose ball to score under the posts and Baden Kerr added the extras which meant the home side led 29-7 at the break.
After Slade landed two penalties within 10 minutes of the restart, the Blues launched a fightback by scoring two further tries through Rene Ranger and Steven Luatua which had the hosts' supporters worrying in the stands.
Ranger's effort came in the 55th minute after he ran onto a pass from Luke Braid, who had torn the Highlanders defence to shreds with a devastating break in the build-up.
And Luatua scored from close range in the 67th minute after a period of sustained pressure inside the Highlanders' 22.
Kerr converted on both occasions before Hayden Parker added another three-pointer for the Highlanders.
Braid scored the Blues' fourth try, after bursting through from close range at a ruck in injury time to clinch a his side's bonus-point for scoring four tries.
Tries: B Smith 2, Ellison, Gear
Cons: Slade 3
Pens: Slade 3, Parker
Tries: Naholo, Ranger, Luatua, Braid
Cons: Kerr 4
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Trent Renata, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Ma'a Nonu.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Mart McKenzie, 22 Jackson Willison.
Referee: Jonathon White