The Waratahs have spoiled their own welcome party to the new Bankwest Stadium in western Sydney and have likely ended any chances of a playoff appearance after hot-headed moments saw both a red and yellow card handed out in the second half of their 23-15 loss to the Sharks.
Deadlocked at 10-all at the halftime break, the Waratahs needed to get on the board early in the second half to keep their 19-year unbeaten run over the Sharks in Sydney intact, but a red to Jed Holloway for a swinging arm to the face of Sharks prop Thomas du Toit and a yellow to Jack Dempsey for a tip tackle five minutes later didn't give the Tahs a chance.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson described the first half as an arm wrestle on Fox Sports, with the his side struggling to find a way through the Sharks defence on multiple occasions in the opening 40 minutes.
"It was certainly disappointing," Gibson said post game. "When we review that game we'll look at those big moments and be disappointed, because we just weren't good enough in that moment to execute that skill.
"Obviously those moments prove costly at the end, and of course the yellow. Getting down to 13, it makes winning rugby more difficult. I was pleased with how they fought all the way to the end, we should have had a bonus point, at least out of that, but disappointing."
Discipline had been a clear problem for the Waratahs earlier in the season, but they had curbed the issue somewhat in recent weeks. They had conceded just 70 penalties (fourth fewest) on the year compared to a competition-worst 107 by the Sunwolves and 106 by the Rebels, but by the end of Saturday night's loss the Waratahs moved up to sixth fewest with 76.
While they also only sit midpack with three yellow cards, the stats were little comfort for Gibson.
"That was the critical moment of the game; 45 minutes in, 10-all and fairly even to that point - it changed the nature of the game. Red card, it's very clear the law, strike to the head with the forearm or the elbow, sanctions are a red card or a yellow, so no problems with that."
Dominating territory and possession in the first half, the Tahs sent the ball wide early, testing the Sharks defence in the opening minutes, but they struggled to find any cracks - eventually succumbing to pressure and losing the ball. It was the story of the first half, as they failed to convert plenty of ball into much-needed points.
"Both teams had fairly similar game plans, it revolved around field position and kicking smartly," Gibson said.
"We seem to be putting ourselves in position to score tries but not taking them as well as we could. We had some nice field possession early in the game, two missed lineouts thrown over the back, we're not executing that stuff. When you're short of try scoring that's going to hurt you."
With the Rebels enjoying their second bye of the season, the Waratahs had the perfect opportunity to take control of the Australian conference, needing a win over the Sharks to move top and give themselves some breathing room in case of a Brumbies win on Sunday morning. Now, with a loss at home and an upcoming two-week South African tour, the Waratahs could easily slip out of the playoff picture.
"It's certainly at a critical juncture. The season has thrown a lot at us and it's going to require us to show a lot of resilience. We're on a two week tour now and it's very clear what we need to do and get from that tour. From that point of view, it's very clear," Gibson said.
An 83rd minute try to Bernard Foley was little consolation for the team with his conversion going wide denying his side a much needed bonus point. Gibson had only disappointment to take away from the game.
"I'd be struggling to find [positives], but they'll be there, they'll be there once we review the tape... We've got an opportunity to go to South Africa and play some positive footy, and that's what we're hoping to do," he said.
Flying to Pretoria on Sunday morning, the Waratahs will have a long flight of reflection as their season hangs in the balance.