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The side notched its fifth loss in a row when it went down 43-17 to the Crusaders in Christchurch last night.
It was a familiar story from the Highlanders, who had chances to win the game in the first half but let the Crusader run riot in the second.
"I thought the first half was outstanding in everything we wanted to bring in the first 40 minutes. We put the Crusaders' game under pressure and had some good patches on attack ourselves," he said.
"We just could not back it up with points and I thought the Crusaders were outstanding in that second half. They found a couple of chinks and that is why they are at the top of the table."
He said the Crusaders were very good at maintaining their momentum and were ruthless in killing any momentum created by the Highlanders.
The penalty count was 18-6 to the Highlanders, but referee Ben O'Keeffe did not bring out a yellow card until the final couple of minutes of the game.
Mauger said the team on the field was trying to make O'Keeffe aware of how high the penalty count was against the Crusaders, but to no avail.
When winger Matt Faddes intercepted the ball in the first half he could have scored a try, but pulled up lame and left the field shortly afterwards.
Mauger said that was a big moment in the game and could have resulted in another seven points.
"We are playing some good footy, but you have to capitalise on every chance that comes along against a good side like this."
Faddes was being checked last night, but appears to be destined for some time on the sideline, joining a bulging Highlanders injury ward.
Mauger said the effort was there but there needed to be some more polish.
The Blues loom next Saturday back at Forsyth Barr Stadium and if the Highlanders want to get into the playoffs they must win their remaining five home games.
The spirit in the side was still strong and the hunger to play well was still present. It had entered must-win territory, he said.
"This team loves that pressure and expectation. We will fight together and look after each other and build for a good performance against the Blues. There is still a lot of footy to be played in this competition ... it is not that we do not have the skills. It is just about being on in the moment when it arrives.
"But I have every confidence it will turn and when it goes off, it is going to go off big."