The Highlanders have slipped down the Super Rugby standings after a limp 34-22 defeat to the Stormers this morning.

The South African tour couldn't have gone much worse for the southerners, who followed up a 38-29 defeat to the Lions last week with another pointless display against the Stormers.

"We didn't win the physical battle. The Stormers definitely won that," Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said.

"(We) didn't hold onto the ball for long enough periods to really put them under pressure...on the other side, too many soft tries; too many missed tackles and that ultimately cost us."


What looked to be a favourable finish to their season - featuring no Kiwi derbies in their last five games - has now turned into a nightmare, with the Highlanders having slumped to 10th on the ladder, having played a game more than all bar one of the teams below them.

Their slide also leaves the distinct possibility that there could only be two New Zealand sides in the playoffs this season.

The Highlanders were hardly in the contest against the Stormers, with a Matt Faddes yellow card for a dangerous tip tackle not aiding their cause as they fell into a 17-3 hole at halftime.

A try after the break to Sio Tomkinson gave them hope, but the Stormers immediately responded through Cobus Wiese. They did the same after Waisake Naholo crossed, with Jean-Luc du Plessis hitting back just five minutes later, and an 83rd minute try to Siate Tokolahi was a mere consolation as the Stormers kept themselves in the mix in the tight South African conference.

Things are not as rosy for the Highlanders, who will almost certainly drop further down the table after next week's bye, before finishing their season at home with games against the Bulls and Waratahs - two matches they'll need to win to make the playoffs. They'll see their squad depth bolstered for the two matches, with All Blacks Jackson Hemopo and Liam Squire expected to be available for selection for next weekend's clash against the Bulls.

"We're going to need to put a couple of big shifts in," said Mauger.

"If we do that we might give ourselves a chance."