Super Rugby 2019: Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger rues costly defensive lapses against Hurricanes

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger feels his team let the Hurricanes off the hook after falling to a frustrating 31-28 defeat in Friday's Super Rugby derby in Dunedin.

The Highlanders surrendered a 28-17 lead with 20 minutes remaining, as Ardie Savea scooted in for his second try and Ngani Laumpae crossed the line moments later to put the visitors in the lead.

A late surge wasn't enough for the Highlanders, who suffered their first home loss at Forsyth Barr Stadium in two years.

The Highlanders have now lost four-straight matches and tasted victory since their home game against the Reds in February.

"It was a pretty bitter pill to swallow, that one," said Mauger. "I'm really proud of the effort we put into the performance, and we defended well for large patches.

"But it was frustrating - just some key defensive lapses, and against a team like the Hurricanes, they can make you pay.

"The positive thing for us is we are playing good footy. We played some good footy tonight and executed our game plan well enough to get us to win the game.

Mauger said conceding a try just before halftime was damaging to the side.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger. Photo credit: Photosport

"We had the game in control before halftime. We don't want to go away and curb our enthusiasm for playing our game at speed [but] we've got to make sure we're making good decisions in those moments, especially in the context just before half-time.

"We go in 14-7 up, and it's a bit of a psychological boost. It's gutting."

Things don't get any easier for the Highlanders though, as they face the Crusaders and Blues in the next fortnight before a trip to Japan to face the Sunwolves.

They also sit fourth in the New Zealand conference, but Maguer is refusing to hit the panic button just yet.

"There's a lot of heart in this team, we all love being here, I love coaching this team," he said.

"We are all really committed to being our best every day and making sure we commit to doing that and helping each other.

"In terms of heart, there's plenty of that in our team and plenty of faith."