NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has conceded Australian teams are "finding it tough" to match their New Zealand rivals following his side's 41-22 defeat to the Crusaders on Sunday afternoon.
The Waratahs became the fourth Australian side to fall to a New Zealand franchise on the weekend and the overall numbers don't make for pretty reading, with zero wins from 11 attempts this year.
New Zealand teams have beaten Australian sides in 34 of their last 37 matches, with the Waratahs' latest 19-point loss the final blip on what was another underwhelming weekend for Australian rugby.
From the four Australian-New Zealand matches this weekend, the aggregate score finished at 150 points to 64 in what is surely compelling evidence that cutting a Super Rugby team is the right move.
NSW gave a better account of themselves but a late rock-solid Crusaders defensive display saw Super Rugby's frontrunners leave Sydney with a comfortable win to remain unbeaten after six rounds.
The Waratahs had a chance to go atop the Australian conference and trailed 22-29 with less than 10 minutes remaining and were very much in the contest.
But a 72nd-minute try from Crusaders reserve halfback Bryn Hall extinguished any hope of an against-the-odds win before another try two minutes from full-time put the icing on the cake.
NSW captain Michael Hooper was typically valiant, however the Crusaders' strength across the board saw them become the first team to post 10 consecutive victories against Australian opposition.
"I can't comment for the other teams but certainly right now we're finding it tough going in terms of seeing the level we've got to get to… against a New Zealand team," Gibson said. "That's something for us to aspire to and part of my job is to get the team there. Right now, we're short of that. We got close but we know exactly what we need to improve."
The Waratahs have a five-day turnaround before facing last year's Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes, who have won four of their five matches.
"The Hurricanes are a very good team at the moment," Hooper said. "Again, another shot at a top team and for us to be contenders this season, we want to play them and need to play them to see where we're at."
Stand-in five-eighth Mack Mason set up two tries and his future looks bright but the composure of regular No.10 Bernard Foley was sorely missed and will hurt NSW every game he is absent.
It looked like nerves were affecting Mason when one of his first passes at Super Rugby level went behind the attacking line but his desire to even clean out rucks indicated he was keen to get his hands dirty.
"I think Mack handled himself well," Gibson said. "He was pretty polished, didn't make many errors, executed well."
NSW missed 24 tackles in the opening 40 minutes – that number finished at a staggering 47 by full-time - but a Jake Gordon penalty kept the Waratahs in the contest, trailing 10-19 at half-time.
"[Our defence was] pretty poor," Gibson said. "You can't win football if you're going to miss that many tackles.
"It means we've got to pull ourselves up straight away. We can't afford to be stuck in that game tomorrow, we've got to start moving towards the Hurricanes.
The Crusaders skipped out to an early lead, scoring two tries in the opening 13 minutes with winger George Bridge and fullback David Havili getting their names on the scoresheet.
Things looked bright when, with their first real bit of favourable field position, Hooper scooped the ball up near the line and dived over to reduce the margin to five points following a Robinson conversion in the 24th minute.
The first half was energy-sapping and while the Waratahs were throwing everything they had at the Crusaders, a lack of fitness appeared to gift the visitors try No.3.
A brilliant Gordon try off the back of clever set-piece ball gave the Waratahs a flicker of hope, which turned into genuine belief when Taqele Naiyaravoro scored a brutal five-pointer to bring the score back to 26-22.
Having just come onto the field, Naiyaravoro, like a bull running at a red flag, steamrolled over the top of a hapless Crusaders defender in a display of brute strength that had every NSW fan out of their seat.
"He got us back in the game," Gibson said. "The momentum really swung at that point and that's the disappointing thing that we failed to capitalise on the first time in the game where we had some real pressure."
A penalty stretched the margin to seven points and while the Waratahs probed the Crusaders, they were unable to break through as Hall and Ben Funnell scored at the other end to reduce NSW to their fourth loss from six starts this year.
"You always start after a great pre-season it's all rosy and really good to go," Hooper said. "We were seven points behind an undefeated team there with momentum at 65 minutes. We're doing it the hard way."