Individual errors cost Hurricanes on defence
Mark Hammett said he wasn't confused, but it's difficult not to be after watching the Hurricanes latest performance.
Few teams can score five tries and 44 points and still lose, but even less can win when they concede 49.
"We'll review the [defensive] system and there will be nothing wrong with that side of it," Hammett said after the match when asked about the leaky defence. "It will be individual errors."
A quick review of turnstiles suggests that assessment's not entirely wrong.
Ben May rushed out of the line to open a barn door for Colin Slade. James Marshall was stood up by Kade Poki in a space the size of a phone booth. Jack Lam fell off Hosea Gear, and Mark Reddish slid ineffectively across Elliot Dixon.
That's four of the Highlanders six tries accounted for, but it does not get to the root of a problem that has dogged the Hurricanes throughout Hammett's tenure.
Languishing in 11th place after their ninth loss, this year's side have conceded the fourth most points and fourth most tries (46) in Super Rugby behind the Kings, Rebels and Highlanders.
During each of the past two seasons the Hurricanes were the sixth worst in points conceded.
Hammett and assistant Alama Ieremia have regularly defended their systems despite seemingly frequent breaches.
Opposition tries are often referred to as "soft" and defensive lapses put down to one-on-one missed tackles.
But why is the problem getting worse? Do the players not understand the system? Is it attitude? Is it now confusing the coaching staff?
"I'm not saying its confusing. It's something that comes about through some inexperience," Hammett said. "I don't want to use that as an excuse, but I'm trying to find a reason, that's the thing we do [as coaches]."
So the search will continue in Christchurch next week where containing the Crusaders will be the Hurricanes biggest challenge.
In the meantime Hammett will cling again to the one thing his side do consistently well, score tries.
"There's lots of parts of that game that you could show at a coaching clinic, like how to maintain ball, how to get over the advantage line, how to hit close and open up gaps and when to miss that and go in behind," he said.
"We did that ample times but its the things we didn't do around connecting after a kick off, silly penalties, building six or seven phases then getting our body position wrong on the eighth.
"That's the frustrating detail that we work hard on but it hasn't come out. That's the story of the year. Lots of good mixed with things that bite us."
Hammett remains convinced the side can turn things around.
"I'm really determined. I have a massive amount of belief in this group. We've seen a lot of this group develop immensely. We've seen with the players who have been spotted and are in All Black frame and we saw some good performances off the bench tonight," he said in reference to Brad Shields' eye-catching second half efforts. "Absolutely I believe, but the big thing is we want to finish this season well not focus straight to next season."
The Hurricanes earned two bonus points in losing to the Highlanders but are out of a playoff race that will be contested by the Bulls, Chiefs, Brumbies, Crusaders, Reds and Cheetahs.
Hammett's side can finish as high as seventh if they gain a bonus point win over the Crusaders and a string of other results fall in their favour.
The Dominion Post