The Waratahs say they'll keep "answering the bell" despite putting their finals hopes are on life-support after a 23-15 loss to the Jaguares at Bankwest Stadium.
Though still mathematically a chance to pick up a wildcard with three rounds left to go, the Tahs’ are all-but cooked in their pursuit of the Australian conference title after the Argentinians continued their three-game unbeaten run against NSW.
In a stop-start, defence-heavy game, the Waratahs trailed 17-3 midway through the second half and though the hosts scored twice to make a game of it at 17-15, the Jaguares literally kicked away lwith two crucial penalties in the last 15 minutes.
With the Rebels and the Brumbies both securing bonus-point wins this round, NSW are stuck eight points adrift and are all-but out of the Aussie conference race.
To sneak a wildcard they’d have to win all games and rely on a number of teams sitting a win ahead of them to collectively fall in a heap.
It’s a long shot on both fronts. The Waratahs haven’t showed anywhere near the consistency required to win a lot of single games, let alone a string of three.
And to make matters worse, in-form centre Karmichael Hunt's season is over after he suffered a grade three medial ligament injury in the opening minute against the Jaguares.
At Bankwest Stadium in front 13,885, the Waratahs were forced to do a tonne of defending - they finishing with 166 tackles - but they were again their own worst enemies, coming up with a glut of hair-pulling turnovers when in good attacking position.
Skill execution, loose carries and sloppy breakdown work all cost NSW dearly.
The Jaguares defended extremly well for most of the evening and simply didn’t let the Waratahs make many inroads, and they scrambled well when breached.
"When we had possession we looked impatient and wanted to score with every possession, as opposed to just being satisfied to go through the phases," Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said.
"Obviously first half we struggled to get possession and territory. But by the end of the game we had our chances, particularly during that period we they had a yellow card. I felt we converted some pressure but there were some opportunites there we could have done better with."
Asked about the grim state of the Waratahs' finals chances, Gibson conceded: "It’s going to be very difficult from here on in isn’t it, in terms of those three games?
"We are very much still wanting to play the rugby we have set out all year, and that hasn’t changed for us," Gibson said.
"I know our guys will turn up and keep fighting and keep answering the bell, and that’s what you’d expect. While we have that disappointment we have a lot of pride in our team and a lot of pride in our jersey."
Stocked with Test players, the Jaguares are looking extremely dangerous in the Super Rugby competition.
The Argentina team have won all five games in Australia and now sit atop the African conference.
They dominated the first half at Bankwest Stadium, controlling the ball well and moving it around simply and effectively.
The Waratahs were forced to make a staggering 124 tackles in the opening half and did well to limit the Jaguares to one try, which was a nicely executed grubber for winger Ramiro Moyano to beat Alex Newsome to the line in the 26th minute.
Bernard Foley banged over a penalty but NSW conceded one themselves and went into the sheds 10-3 down.
The second half saw NSW go down another try to Moyano, after simple hands and a poor missed tackle by Kurtley Beale at fullback.
But the home side mounted a fightback and after Curtis Rona went close, the Tahs rolled a maul so close it was awarded as a penalty try when pulled down.
Nick Phipps appeared to score soon after but Lalakai Foketi had his foot in touch in the lead-up.
Rona scored a few minutes after that to make it 17-15, and Foley’s potentially levelling conversion hit the upright.
With 15 minutes left, NSW were posed to swoop home and win the game but they couldn’t maintain control of the ball long enough to build pressure.
The Jaguares collected another three to push out to five points ahead.
One long-range attacking run from Foley gave some hope in the 75th minute but he lost the ball.
The Waratahs had a chance to score after the siren but gave away a penalty at the breakdown and the Argentinian side took another three, pushed away to win by eight, denying NSW any points.
It was the eighth loss of the season for the Waratahs, and none of the losing margins have been more than eight points.
Asked about what common elements linked the defeats, captain Michael Hooper said: "Losing big moments probably. The inability to really convert and go back-to-back on our points. We score a try and let one in, and that’s a theme we have been trying to break and we haven’t achieved that. It hasn’t come off again tonight."
Tries: Penalty try, Rona,
Tries: Moyano 2
Cons: Miotti 2
Pens: Diaz Bonilla 2, Miotti