Positives despite worst effort of season

Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody will be thinking of the positives heading into bye week.

There is no doubt the hot cross buns would still have tasted a little stale yesterday.

Dermody had hoped to use this week to reflect solely on the progress his retooled Highlanders have made this season — and it would be a mean heart that did not acknowledge there has been genuine progress.

Instead, he will need to go back to the drawing board to see if his team can be better than they were in a 47-12 loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday night.

The Highlanders had won two games, fought hard in another two, and staged a stirring comeback against the Chiefs over the opening five rounds, but they were really outclassed in this one.

To be clear, the Hurricanes are a very good team — they top the Super Rugby standings with six straight wins — but the Highlanders did not do themselves any favours with a litany of errors and a worrying sign of being far off the pace.

Dermody acknowledged his men were run ragged as the Canes leaped to a 33-0 lead.

"We were just a bit untidy around our ruck defence and they’d obviously targeted us there," he said.

"Once they got gain line, it’s really hard to stop. They just got their offload game going.

"We were aware of what was coming. We knew the Hurricanes were coming in with a lot of confidence, and we’d talked about our start after last week.

"Our game is good enough if we get it going, but we just gave them too much of a start, and it was a long way back."

Dermody was pleased to eventually see a response from the Highlanders and felt they looked decent when they played with tempo and started moving the ball.

The problem was their execution when they got anywhere near the attacking zone.

The Highlanders head into bye week — after which they head to Australia to play the Rebels and the Reds — with a record of two wins and four losses, clinging on to the eighth and final playoff spot.

"We’ve been travelling well until tonight," Dermody said.

"We’ve been competing in every game until tonight, so I think we can take that with us into the bye, knowing that we’ve got a big stint of games when we get back, starting with a trip to Melbourne."

Bye week will also mean an opportunity for the Highlanders to assess their casualty ward.

The biggest concern appeared to be winger Jona Nareki, who left the field after about 25 minutes on Saturday night with an ankle problem. Nareki has been cleared of serious injury but will undergo further assessment his week.

Fabian Holland, Tom Sanders and Josh Timu were all removed for HIA protocols.

The Highlanders have a two-point buffer over Moana Pasifika, who were thumped 47-8 by the Blues at Eden Park, and are two points behind the Fijian Drua, who beat the Force 31-13 at a waterlogged Churchill Park.

The Brumbies are tied with Blues on 22 points, five behind the Hurricanes, after pipping the Reds 20-19 in the final game of the round.