The dream of a Super Rugby three-peat are in tatters for the Chiefs after they lost 33-17 to the Waratahs in New Plymouth tonight.
The Chiefs will head into the international break stewing on their own inadequacies after they again put in a disappointing overall performance.
The same problems which plagued the Chiefs a week ago during their embarrassing loss to the Hurricanes were evident in the first 40 minutes, as the two-time defending champions were outplayed in most areas.
As well as lacking intensity, the Chiefs did not have the same urgency as their trans-Tasman opponents, who took a 13-3 lead at halftime.
A lack of penetration, a failure to hang on to the ball and numerous mistakes all combined to leave the home fans flat.
Cruden was particularly poor in the opening half as he repeatedly missed touch from penalties, got caught in two minds inside his 22 and lacked the authority usually associated with his game.
His only real highlight in the first spell was a quick penalty he took inside his own 22 before spinning it wide.
It was the only time the Chiefs made more than 30m with the ball in hand.
Unfortunately that too ended in a turnover.
It was a common theme as the Waratahs rushed up in defence, hurried the Chiefs whenever they had the ball and looked the more dangerous on counter attack.
Wallabies centre Adam Ashley-Cooper was particularly good for the visitors as he relished the amount of ball his forwards were providing.
Throw in the danger Israel Folau, who scored the only try of the first half, and the Waratahs looked the far better side.
The Chiefs also struggled to turnover any ball, with the Waratahs protecting the breakdowns in numbers with their big men.
The highlight of the half was flanker Michael Hooper's decision to run straight into prop Ben Tameifuna, the 40kg weight difference providing a whiplash moment for the Wallaby.
Two tries from replacement midfielder Bundee Aki looked to have kept the Chiefs campaign alive when they took a 17-16 lead with 15 minutes to play but their inability to control possession and take the right option proved costly when Bernard Foley landed his third penalty with 12 to go.
Aki's tries, which both came from kicks sent in behind the defence, showed what tactics should have been employed earlier.
Unfortunately the Chiefs just couldn't get enough good territory to make their opponents pay.
The end was confirmed with eight minutes to go when Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis ran 25m to score in the corner.
Again it was off a Chiefs mistake, this time their inability to find touch.
Their final try, to Foley, came right on the hooter.
The Waratahs showed they will be a real force in the playoffs if they can maintain their intensity because they have the size to muscle up to anyone.
NSW Waratahs 33 (Israel Folau, Dave Dennis, Bernard Foley tries; Foley 3 pens, 2 cons, Kurtley Beale pen) Chiefs 17 (Bundee Aki 2 tries; Aaron Cruden 2 cons, pen). HT: 13-3
Which 2015 NZ Super Rugby team looks best?