Highlanders perilously placed but can still make playoffs

Rob Thompson looks for a way through the Lions defence. Photo: Getty Images
Rob Thompson looks for a way through the Lions defence. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders are on the slide and coach Aaron Mauger admits every competition point is critical at the moment.

The side lost 38-29 to the Lions in Johannesburg yesterday morning and, following the defeat, tumbled from fifth in the standings to eighth.

It can still make the playoffs although it is in a perilous position.

After the game against the Stormers in Cape Town this weekend, it will have Queen's Birthday off due to its second bye. Every other team will be playing.

The Highlanders have just two games left when they get back - the Bulls at Forsyth Barr Stadium on June 7 and the Waratahs in Invercargill on June 14.

There was little between the teams in the match in Johannesburg but once again the Highlanders let points go begging.

"We created enough opportunities but there were one or two we did not quite finish off and the Lions made the most of that," Mauger said.

"We played some good footy and we wanted to move them round and we probably should have moved them around more to get our momentum going."

He said with 40% of the ball the side fashioned some good chances but could not get over the line.

Star winger Waisake Naholo was named on the bench earlier in the week to return from a knee injury but was pulled just before the match started.

Mauger said it was decided to give him another week to be completely ready to take the field.

James Lentjes replaced Naholo as the Highlanders went to a forwards-heavy bench.

The Highlanders are on 29 points but there are 10 sides within six points of each other. The three sides the Highlanders have left to play are all still in the mix.

"Every point now is critical at this stage of the season and it was disappointing to not come away with a point at least."

Mauger said he hoped Sanzaar would review officials just as teams review their performances when asked about referee Rasta Rasivhenge. But the milk is spilt now and the Highlanders have to move on.

Midfielder Tei Walden came off with a head knock near the end of the first half and was to be assessed today.

The side was due to head to Cape Town today.

The Stormers will be a tough opponent and are still in with a sniff of winning the South African conference. They had a hard-fought 19-19 draw with the Crusaders in Cape Town yesterday.

Teams will most probably need 37 points to get into the playoffs and, if that is the requirement, then the Highlanders simply have to win their final two games at home.

But with so many teams in contention - only the Crusaders and Hurricanes appear safely into the playoffs - the scenarios are shifting.

In other games over the weekend, the Blues grabbed their first win over the Chiefs since 2011, 23-8 at Eden Park, while the Bulls beat the Rebels 32-17. The Waratahs defeated the Reds 40-32 in Brisbane.


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