James Mortimer 01.Jul.2012Getty Images
The Highlanders lost 27-21 to the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium over the weekend, the Southerners fourth loss in their last six matches, an unwelcome repeat of their late season fade in 2011.
Certainly the hosts had their opportunities to down the New Zealand Conference front runners, with the big clash of the halfbacks going the way of Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who had the better of All Blacks number nine Aaron Smith, who may have been a bit off his game after starting in the three tests of the Steinlager Series against Ireland.
The Highlanders certainly played plenty of rugby, but simple mistakes combined with a gritty Chiefs defence to rob the men from the Deep South.
There was also a concerted effort from the visitors to disrupt the Highlanders breakdown, the primary source of their power in the first half of the season, while they worked overtime to disrupt Smith.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph told the Otago Daily Times that he felt the Chiefs perhaps gave a bit too much attention to the Highlanders newest All Black.
"There was a few dubious things they were doing to our halfback and I would like to have a look at that but at certain times they picked the right rucks," he said.
Joseph was clearly unhappy that his side couldn't record a double over the Chiefs for 2012, a result that would have kept the final's hopes alive, but he said his team didn't take their chances.
"There was two turnover tries and I think the previous four or five phases we had showed some good play," he said.
"But it only took one knock-on, some good play from the Chiefs to get that first try. You put that with a couple of silly penalties and that is margin of seven points. We didn't execute well enough and in big rugby you need to do that."
The Highlanders head to Brisbane this weekend to play their final match of the regular season, and will need to become just the fifth team in three years to win at Suncorp if they are to keep their slim chances alive.
A losing bonus point against the Chiefs gives them 45 points overall, and they will need to beat the Reds, before picking up four competition points from a round 18 bye - before waiting on other team's results in the final round to see if they break a decade long drought of Super Rugby Finals Series action.