The Highlanders are not out of the playoff hunt, but coach Jamie Joseph warns they need to cut out the silly errors if they want to remain competitive in the Super 15.
A 26-20 loss to the Hurricanes, in a match that ebbed and flowed at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night, was not the homecoming from South Africa the Highlanders were after.
The loss, coupled with the Sharks' thumping of the Force in Durban, sent the Highlanders out of the top six for the first time this season.
They are on 35 points, one behind the sixth-placed Sharks but just one clear of the surprising Hurricanes.
The Highlanders face a tricky remaining draw in their bid to return to the playoffs for the first time in a decade. They host the Bulls, then are on the road to play the Blues and the Crusaders before the three-week break.
But Joseph is not throwing in the towel yet.
"There is still a lot of rugby to play. Our focus is we have got a few sore guys and we get to have a decent week where we can recover, as opposed to flying between countries," he said.
"What I do know is we have to beat the Bulls, and we have done it before. We just need to stop making those silly, wee errors. If we can do that we can put a performance in that we can be proud of."
Joseph is fully aware of the task which awaits his men on Saturday, when the men from Pretoria arrive to play at the stadium.
"I don't think we've had an easy game in the entire competition. I remember the game against the Rebels; we may have won by 20 or 30 points, but it was heartache for the first 40 minutes. It will be the same this week, I would imagine."
The Highlanders made some bad mistakes at just the wrong time on Saturday night, knocking the ball on too often and putting in some poorly directed kicks.
Joseph refused to blame the long flight back from South Africa, saying the errors should not be expected at this top level.
"There were too many errors really, which really cost us tonight, and they cost us last week. The small knock-on there, picking and going and someone would knock it on.
"Something which you would not consider happening at this level of football," he said.
"Some of our experienced players, who have been there in tight games, made the incorrect decisions."
He said those knock-ons and inaccurate passes broke up the side's rhythm.
"The attitude for the guys is always pretty good. We'd have them under the pump and we'd knock the ball on.
"The first half was frustrating, as well. We played a lot of field position and scored a couple of good tries and then we gave away a couple of silly penalties ... That is really disappointing for us as a team."
With both teams possessing game breakers, it was always likely one of them would seal the match - and so it played out, with big Hurricanes winger Julian Savea scoring the match winner.
Flanker Tim Boys, called into the squad last week, played the bulk of the second half on Saturday night and will be joined in the squad by Wellington flanker Scott Fuglistaller and Southland lock Hoani Macdonald.
Many of the players had played every game or missed just one, so "we have to make sure the guys get a bit of a breather", Joseph said.
The Bulls will come to Dunedin with confidence after grabbing a late 27-24 win over the Waratahs in Sydney.
- ODTBy Steve Hepburn