Three games following bye critical

The Highlanders' loss to the Blues puts them in must win territory. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders' loss to the Blues puts them in must win territory. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders have slipped out of the playoff positions but thankfully the season did not end this weekend.

In fact, the side has played only a third of its season although it needs to get into winning form and do so quickly.

The team will have this week off in the first of its bye weeks and is likely to lose further ground as other teams play and gain wins.

A 33-26 loss to the Blues in Auckland last Friday night has left the franchise sitting on 13 points and without a win since February 22.

A few doom and gloom merchants are predicting the season is over but it is too early to push the panic button.

With a slice of luck, good fortune and, most importantly, better play, the side could have won all five games it has played, not the two victories it has recorded.

It could have beaten the Rebels in Melbourne on March 1, if Shannon Frizell had not dropped the ball when going over the line.

A win over the Hurricanes was not far away the following week if the team had got the rub of the green from the referee and, against the Blues on Friday night, if it had performed better under pressure it could have come away with victory.

Mixed in those results is the cancelled game against the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in which the Highlanders picked up two points for a draw. With the Crusaders losing this weekend, both teams may have still been getting over the emotion of the past week.

History though cannot be rewritten and the side has gained just five points from its past four games.

The main reason it has lost games is because of poor skill execution and messy play when under pressure. The side has dispersed for the week and will come together next Sunday for the next stage of the season, which is made up of eight games in eight weeks.

It will open with three games against New Zealand sides which are going to be absolutely crucial to the season.

It will take on the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium on April 5 and then head to Christchurch to play the Crusaders on April 12. The Blues then come to Dunedin for the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy match on Easter Saturday.

The Highlanders did not pick up any new injuries in the match against the Blues and should have centre Rob Thompson back for the game against the Hurricanes.

The coaching team will be doing plenty of thinking over this coming week.

After giving everyone a run, it now needs to settle on the core of its side and stick with it over the next few weeks.

It may be a case of who to leave out in the forward pack - the engine room has been going well in the past few weeks no matter who takes the field.

But in the backs there has been too many average efforts and a real lack of spark on attack.

Teams constantly being offside and selection changes do not help proceedings but the backline needs to get better and take chances when they come along.

As for winger Waisake Naholo, it is pretty clear he is lacking a huge dose of confidence.

That happens when you get dropped from the national side after doing nothing wrong, being passed over for a player of promise in Jordie Barrett who still has major holes in his game.


 

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