They won't make the finals, but the NSW Waratahs hope to have a big say in who does after falling agonisingly short of pulling off the upset of the 2021 Super Rugby AU season.
The Waratahs remain anchored to the foot of the table following a sixth successive loss, but Friday night's 24-22 defeat to the benchmark Brumbies has renewed hope that they can avoid a winless campaign.
Pumped 61-10 by the Brumbies in their season opener and belted 46-14 last week by the Queensland Reds, the Waratahs dedicated their vastly improved showing to sacked coach Rob Penney.
Penney was punted on Sunday, shocking and rocking a playing group already reeling from their abject opening to the season.
"It's been an emotional week," NSW captain Jake Gordon said.
"We spoke about it in the sheds, putting on a really good effort for Rob. I can't answer why it's happened like that."
The Waratahs' five-eighth Will Harrison ended up with an after-the-siren conversion chance to send the match into extra time but pushed his sideline attempt wide.
While disappointed with his side's lacklustre showing, Brumbies coach Dan McKellar applauded the efforts of NSW's interim coaches Chris Whitaker and Jason Gilmore in getting the Waratahs up for the game after such a turbulent five days.
"We did some really good things in attack, scored a couple of nice tries, but defensively we had no sting and they did," McKellar said.
"They turned that around and you've got to take your hat off to them. They've had a tough week, the Tahs, and 'Gilly' and 'Whits" got them up and they put a lot of pressure on us defensively.
"Yeah, the opposition were very good."
Whitaker said it was "uncomfortable" taking over from Penney in such unexpected fashion.
"But that's what you have to do," he said.
"I think everyone is aware that's what happens in rugby. Whether you deserve to go or not, unfortunately it's a results-driven game.
"I worked in France for eight years. Unfortunately, that's the fact of life in rugby. In any sport. Things change. You have to step up and take the lead."
The NSW board hopes to name a new full-time coach by September.
Whitaker, a Waratahs great and 1999 Wallabies World Cup winner, refused to be drawn when asked if he was auditioning for the role.
"This week has been 7am to 8pm or 9pm every day. I haven't had any time to think about it," he said.
"We have two more games and then we have the New Zealand comp or the Aussie comp going ahead again, that's all we're working on."
The Waratahs have a bye next week before finishing their Super Rugby AU season against the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, the two teams fighting it out for the third finals spot behind the Reds and defending champion Brumbies.
"We've wanted to go in winning every game and, 100 per cent, the next two games we can do that," said Whitaker, who was "disappointed but proud" to lose in his first game as co-coach.
"We created enough in that game to win."