NSW Waratahs have all but crashed out of contention for the Super Rugby playoffs following a 19-13 loss to the ladder-leading Stormers in Cape Town on Sunday morning (AEDT).
It was a fourth straight loss and eighth loss in 12 games for tenth-placed NSW, who are 13 points off sixth spot and a whopping 16 behind the Australian conference-leading Brumbies.
In a season of close losses, it was a sixth defeat by seven points or fewer for the Sydney-based franchise.
The Waratahs were competitive in the set pieces and scored the first ten points of the second half to climb within three of the second-placed Stormers, who led 16-3 at the break.
The Stormers scored two tries to one and closed out the game down the stretch as the visitors tried manfully to reel them in.
NSW halfback Brendan McKibbin missed with a penalty from just inside his own half, but nailed another from closer range to open the scoring in the tenth minute.
Five-eighth Berrick Barnes persisted with a barrage of high kicks, but they gleaned little reward, the Stormers back three consistently defusing his bombs.
The Stormers crossed through fullback Joe Pietersen in the 17th minute after the home team threw the ball wide.
Pietersen kicked a penalty and hooker Tiaan Liebenberg added a try in the 33rd minute, diving over in the corner following a driving maul from a lineout.
The home team finished the half with a penalty to five-eighth Peter Grant following an attack that lasted almost 20 phases.
NSW made a perfect start to the second half, with centre Rob Horne scoring a try following a burst from replacement lock Kane Douglas and good work from No.8 Dave Dennis.
Douglas came on shortly after the 20-minute mark following what looked like a shoulder injury to second-rower Sitaleki Timani.
A McKibbin penalty closed the gap to 16-13, but Grant replied in kind three minutes later to swell the home team's buffer to six.
Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu missed a golden chance when he dropped the ball five metres out from the Stormers line and compounded the error by giving away a penalty with a dangerous tackle on Liebenberg.
The Waratahs, who were on the wrong end of the possession count in the first half, tried manfully to bridge the gap in the final quarter, but couldn't find their way through the tightest defence in the competition.
STORMERS 19 (Tiaan Liebenberg, Joe Pietersen tries Peter Grant 2, Pietersen pens) bt NSW WARATAHS 13 (Rob Horne try Brendan McKibbin con 2 pens) at Newlands Rugby Stadium. Referee: Craig Joubert.