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Weepu stunned, Tanaka stunning

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Sportal.co.nz     02 Jun 2013     Getty Images

It was only the Highlanders' second win in 13 games of the Investec Super Rugby season and it enabled them to regain the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy before a crowd of 12,888 at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

It was the Blues' third consecutive loss and Weepu's injury, which seems certain to take him out of the All Blacks' first test against France next Saturday, added to their woes.

He was accidentally kneed in the head after 14 minutes and taken from the ground on a cart after a lengthy delay while he was examined by doctors.

"Piri's fine," Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said. "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."

Meanwhile, Tanaka, the Japanese international who had been chosen ahead of 2012 All Black Aaron Smith, gained the plaudits of his coach after his classy performance.

"He was outstanding." Jamie Joseph said. "His reading of the game was excellent, he drove the forwards well and he was a class act. He hardly speaks any English but he and Colin Slade dictated play well."

It was an extraordinary turnaround by the Highlanders after their turgid 19-18 loss to the Western Force in Perth last week.

"I thought it would be difficult to turn the disappointment of that match around," Joseph said. "But we had the snow, three days with our families and only one training this week and it seemed to work pretty well."

The Gordon Hunter Trophy was also a factor in the Highlanders' improvement.

"I'm sure that was a factor," Joseph said. "We talked about that before the match. Gordy was special to me from my Otago playing days. Everyone knows where he's from and what he did."

Joseph said it was simply a good team effort with the forwards providing a solid platform for the exciting outside backs.

"I think everyone just wanted to win that match. There was no magic switch. There was a lot of urgency, hunger to get their hands on the ball, hunger to clean rucks, hunger to re-position. And we made fewer mistakes from attacking positions in the first half.

"We didn't play very well in the second spell [the Highlanders were outscored 21-9] but it's difficult to maintain that urgency and vigour when you have a lead like that."

Joseph was thrilled when the Highlanders led 29-0 after 33 minutes but not so happy when the Blues scored a converted try on the stroke of halftime.

"It sort of gave the Blues a slight sniff. But the guys showed a lot of composure and experience at vital times."

Kirwan described the match as "one of those nights when we couldn't take a trick in the first half. We hardly have the ball and when we did we dropped it. The Highlanders had 80 percent of the possession.

"We showed incredible courage and commitment in the second half but we gave the Highlanders too much of a start. It was disappointing to lose but we never gave up. I said to them at halftime that they just had to start again."

Kirwan did not think complacency was a factor in the loss to the bottom-placed Highlanders.

"They just got on a roll, got over the advantage line and we couldn't get any line speed in our defence. They played exceptionally well. We were ready to go but no excuses. It was just one of those 40 minutes."

Kirwan refused to concede that the Blues' play-off hopes were now over.

"I was really pleased we got a bonus point. Things have to go our way for the rest of the competition but we're not dead yet."