Mark Hammett not pushing panic button despite Highlanders' underwhelming start
They're mixing with perennial strugglers such as the Western Force and Cheetahs on the competition ladder, but Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett insists there is no need to hit the panic button.
One win from their opening four games has the Highlanders at the bottom of the New Zealand conference and already lagging well behind the Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes.
But despite the less than desirable start to the season - the Highlanders have the same amount of competition points (five) as the Southern Kings - Hammett maintains all is well at Highlanders HQ.
"That first four-weeks was a block that obviously we're not happy with," Hammett said.
"But what came out of it was that all the games, right through the first 50-60 minutes, were really positive. But the back 20 or 30 minutes, the skill execution and tactically how we were playing, those sorts of things really let us down."
Injuries certainly haven't helped the Dunedin-based side, although there was good news on the injury front on Tuesday, with Hammett declaring hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate and winger Patrick Osborne fit and available for selection.
He also confirmed centre Malakai Fekitoa and first-five eighth Fletcher Smith were on track to be fit in time for Saturday's match in the Australian capital.
Fekitoa left the field for a concussion test inside the first half hour of the Highlanders' 41-15 loss to the Hurricanes last weekend and did not return. Smith copped a high shot from halfback TJ Perenara early in the second half and wasn't sighted again.
"Malakai and Fletcher have passed all their tests to date," Hammett said. "But, of course, there is a protocol so it's all day-by-day. At this stage, they're on track for the weekend."
While Hammett wasn't about to throw around the "must win" line ahead of his team's fifth round match, he doesn't live on Mars and knows all too well the Highlanders need to start winning if they are to have a sniff come the playoffs.
Outside of an ugly 16-12 win over the Blues and last weekend's loss to the Hurricanes, the Highlanders lost to the Chiefs in a game which they had a monopoly on possession and created all the chances, before coughing up a big lead to the Crusaders the following week.
"We're certainly not down in the mouth," Hammett said. "It's not fun losing games that you should win.
"But if we can really take the lessons out of those and really sharpen up, we could be talking in another three or four weeks and it could be quite a different story."
After the Brumbies, who pushed the Crusaders all the way in round one, the Highlanders host the Rebels and Blues, before their first bye week.
The Highlanders, who are 14th on the overall log, trail the pace-setting Chiefs by 14 competition points, while the unbeaten Crusaders and defending champion Hurricanes are 11 and 10 points clear respectively.
Highlanders loose forward Elliot Dixon echoed Hammett and denied there was an extra sense of urgency going into their next game.
"It's not panic stations at all, at the moment," Dixon said. "That first part of the season is gone and it's good for us to get some learnings for us.
"We can either go one of two ways; get the learnings and kick on from there. Or we drop our heads and call it a dead season. I don't think the Highlanders are ever that second one."