The Waratahs will have to wait and see where they finish on the Super Rugby ladder after a 40-31 loss to the Brumbies on Saturday night.
NSW needed only a win to snap up the ultimate finals advantage and finish in second spot, guaranteeing the right to host two consecutive finals, but they failed to fire against their fierce rivals.
Should the Lions topple the Bulls overnight in Johannesburg, the Waratahs will be pushed down to third in the overall standings and the possibility of a brutal road trip should they make it into the final four.
Three Brumbies tries in the first 20 minutes blew the game open, in one of the ACT’s best outings in recent memories and the momentum the Waratahs had built in recent weeks was sapped out of them along the way.
Their Wallabies contenders stepped up, led by the resurgent Tevita Kuridrani who continues to throw his hat in the ring for a Test return, with lock Rory Arnold proving a beast in defence as well.
The Waratahs had early control but Brumbies fullback Tom Banks snuffed that out, grasping a Curtis Rona pass that went to ground and running 80 metres to score the first of the match.
NSW skipper Bernard Foley went straight for the sticks but their attempt to stem the flow of points ended swiftly when a chain of slick passes ultimately led to a Richie Arnold try in the 12th minute.
Isi Naisarani was on the end of a 13-phase movement eight minutes later as the Brumbies began to really puff their chests out.
That was the end of the no. 8’s involvement and his time at the Brumbies, though, with the Rebels-bound backrower limping off with an injury just minutes later.
Brumbies hooker Folau Faingaa was sin binned in the 24th minutes for a cynical foul and it took NSW almost all of the 10 minutes he was off to finally find the line, with hooker Damien Fitzpatrick collecting a clever Ned Hanigan offload.
Andy Muirhead split the Waratahs’ defence wide open less than two minutes later, escaping the grasps of Rob Simmons and Nick Phipps as he burst his way to the line for an immediate response.
Departing Brumbies centre Kyle Godwin pulled out arguably the best moment of his time with a spectacular chip and chase effort that stretched the Brumbies lea.d
Taqele Naiyaravoro was able to finish off a strong Israel Folau drive to reply but the Brumbies still held control.
The Waratahs’ usually solid set piece was unravelled somewhat by the Brumbies, losing four lineouts against their throw, something that will be a red flag heading into the knock out stages.
A yellow card for replacement second rower Tom Staniforth deep in defence opened up the opportunity for the Brumbies to prove they haven’t lost their maul magic but they were held up in their scoring attempt.
Will Miller gave the Waratahs a final sniff with an intercept try that whittled the margin back to nine points with eight minutes to go, but Brumbies replacement winger Lausii Taiauli finished a spectacular Kuridrani break and chip to seal the deal.
A last-second consolation score for NSW flanker Brad Wilkin ended proceedings but it was too little too late.
Waratahs winger Cam Clark’s night was finished early with a possible hip injury, while Kurtley Beale was replaced just 50 minutes into the final regular season match.
The Waratahs will have to wait until Sunday morning to find out who they will host in a Super Rugby quarter-final next weekend.
Tries: Fitzpatrick, Naiyaravoro, Miller, Wilkin
Cons: Foley 4
Yellow Card: Staniforth (70’)
Tries: Banks, Richie Arnold, Naisarani, Muirhead, Godwin, Taliauli
Cons: Lealiifano 5
Yellow Card: Faingaa (24’)