Brad Thorn believes ruthlessness was the only missing ingredient after his lionhearted Queensland Reds let victory slip through their grasp against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
An encouraging first-up performance ended in a 36-31 loss for Thorn's men on Friday but it took a converted try to Highlanders flanker Dillon Hunt in the dying minutes to quell them.
Until then, the Reds looked on the verge of a first win in New Zealand for six years, a result that would have contradicted grim pre-season forecasts for a team who had bid farewell to Quade Cooper, Karmichael Hunt and James Slipper.
The visitors more than matched the Highlanders for attacking verve, led by the brilliance of teenage outside centre Jordan Petaia, who formed a menacing midfield partnership with skipper Samu Kerevi.
Prop Feao Fotuaika was a muscular presence up front in his Super Rugby debut, scoring a second-half try along with lock Izack Rodda, who was a lineout force.
Rodda's display was inspiring, having chosen to play the game two days after the death of his father John.
Thorn praised the courage of the Wallabies second-rower and agreed the attitude of all his players was outstanding as they fought back from 12 points down early in the second half.
However, with a home game looming against the champion Crusaders next week, Thorn said his team had to quickly learn how to close out tight games.
"The boys put in a big effort.... but it's about putting the foot on the throat and we missed that opportunity," he said.
"We'll continue to work to get that ruthlessness as a team. A lot of good stuff happened for us today. I appreciated the composure when we were two tries down, but it's disappointing to let that opportunity slide."
Determined not to make excuses, Thorn couldn't resist a dig at Argentinian referee Federico Anselmi's scrum rulings.
Fotuaika and Taniela Tupou enjoyed dominance over the Highlanders props, suggesting the Reds will boast one of the competition's premier scrums, as they did last season.
"I was a little bit disappointed when I saw the first scrum, only our scrum was getting talked to by the ref," Thorn said.
"We've been a dominant scrum. I remember at the Crusaders (last year) the ref was mainly interested in us and it was frustrating. It was frustrating again today.
"I don't mind the refs critiquing stuff but you want that for both sides."