Highlanders coach Tony Brown has slammed his side for lacking intensity and backbone in their golden-point defeat at home to the Chiefs on Saturday.
Thanks to a 48-metre penalty goal from Damian McKenzie, the last-gasp defeat in Super Rugby Aotearoa's first-ever extra-time game has also seen the 'Landers' task of making the grand final very difficult.
"I don't know about mathematics, but for me, we had to win all of our games and we just weren't good enough," Brown says. "We couldn't get anything going.
"We were either doing silly mistakes or giving them really soft penalties, which kills everything you're trying to do around creating pressure.
"We had the team to win the game tonight, but we didn't play at the right intensity and we were soft in a few areas of the game.
"If you are a little bit off in this competition, teams are going to beat you."
After an impressive upset 33-12 victory over the Crusaders last week, the Highlanders continued their losing ways at home. They have won two games at Forsyth Barr Stadium since the start of 2020, one of those against the Hurricanes last August, which was played behind closed doors, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"Coming off a pretty good performance against the Crusaders, we couldn't prepare ourselves to reach that same intensity which meant that our game suffered and ultimately we didn't quite get that result," Brown says.
"I thought we did a great job of coming back in that second half and giving ourselves a chance to win but we didn't quite get the job done.
"Two home games in a row, we've seen Damien McKenzie beat us, and a couple of weeks ago Jordie Barret beat us.
Brown was bitterly disappointed that his players didn't stand up in the big moments and lamented the lack of belief his side showed.
"That's time together, that's leadership and all our players believing we are better than everyone else in this competition. I feel we beat ourselves tonight and weren't quite good enough.
"Key players in those moments win games in rugby and we just weren't quite good enough."
The southerners don't have long to prepare as they're back in action in just six days against the Blues and if they want any hope of qualifying for the grand final, it is a must-win game.
"Rugby is a funny thing - it's a physical game and you can play to certain intensity one week, and then drop off a little bit and your game doesn't quite work," says Brown. "We have to go again and we only have a six-day turnaround.
"It should hurt and this performance should hurt our guys, as we had the opportunity to do something great around trying to make the playoffs, but now we're out of that.
"They should be disappointed but they should be excited to take on a Blues team, which looks like they're probably going to get second."