Super Rugby - Weepu carries Blues to win over Highlanders

Piri Weepu scored two second-half tries to lead the Auckland Blues to a 29-18 victory over the Otago Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday, the home side reviving their Super Rugby campaign after three straight losses.

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Piri Weepu of New Zealand and Auckland (Reuters)

The hapless Highlanders slipped to a sixth defeat in as many matches, virtually extinguishing any hope the side had of reaching the playoffs, despite being tipped by many as title contenders ahead of the tournament.

The Blues were also desperate with their season having reached a tipping point after they had followed up a pair of season-opening wins with a trio of defeats that left them in danger of slipping further into a downward spiral.

As such, play was scrappy and high risk, with the visitors throwing the ball around and trying to keep it alive while the Blues were more controlled and patient but turned over possession too many times in the tackle.

Poor discipline also cost the visitors after they had opened a 10-0 lead courtesy of a Colin Slade penalty and a converted Ben Smith try.

Highlanders inside centre Ma'a Nonu was then sinbinned for an illegal shoulder charge on friend and All Blacks team mate Weepu, though referee Steve Walsh initially awarded only a penalty before he saw a replay on the big screen.

The Blues capitalised on their man-advantage with tries to loose forward Steven Luatua and tighthead prop Angus Ta'avao, while flyhalf Chris Noakes added a conversion to give them 12 unanswered points while Nonu was off the field.

Slade responded for Otago just before the break when he landed his second penalty to put the Highlanders 13-12 ahead at halftime.

Blues winger George Moala was sinbinned four minutes into the second half for a high tackle on Buxton Popoalii that appeared to knock the Highlanders winger out cold.

The Highlanders pack then demolished the Blues at the scrum for a sustained period and numerous penalties, but the home side were able to hold them out and then seized the lead when Weepu took the final pass to saunter over after a patient build-up.

Noakes' conversion gave the Blues a 19-13 lead, though the Highlanders struck back almost immediately when Phil Burleigh finished off a break from replacement scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka in the corner. Slade's conversion was unsuccessful.

Noakes slotted a penalty to extend the advantage to four points before Weepu, again backing up a brilliant counter attack, gave the home side a comfortable 11-point lead with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.

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