"We're not up to the standard. I don't think the scoreboard reflects how close we were there in that game. It's really frustrating because we pressured them so well in the first half. I thought we dominated the first half despite being down 7-0. The Lions are a really good team. When we got into their half we turned the ball over. We need to be clean and crisper there."
This was supposed to be a perfect litmus test for the Waratahs after a positive start to the season and it was crystal clear they are not up to the standard of winning a title.
"Full credit to the Lions tonight, I thought they were the better team tonight," Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said. "We're going to take a lot away from this game in terms of the learning.
"Is it a true reflection of where our side is at? Not sure."
After their biggest defeat of the year, the Waratahs have now left the door open for the Melbourne Rebels to leapfrog them into first place on the Australian conference ladder.
The Rebels face the Bulls at 11:05pm AEST on Saturday and a win would see them go past NSW into the pivotal spot which guarantees a team a home finals match.
The spark and speed the Waratahs have shown this season was largely bereft on a night where the Lions stuck to a simple game plan.
Taqele Naiyaravoro made seven carries for 49 metres but was nowhere near as potent as his last two games where he chalked up more than 200 metres in each outing.
Fridays clash gave the Waratahs an opportunity to refine things before a daunting May, which sees the side take on four New Zealand teams – the Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs – in four weeks.
"We'll be right," Hooper said. "This week will be good for us. The next couple of days … will be a bit of soul searching but we'll make the pact to move on and really draw from the stuff we did well and the improvements we can make. We're in a good position."
Gibson would be wise to tell his players they ought to be on the training paddock for as many minutes in the bye week if they are to keep their season alive.
The Waratahs came into the match with their best start to a season since 2006 and began their quest for a fifth straight victory with plenty of energy.
They dominated early territory, won a scrum penalty and were generally sharper than their South African rivals.
Interestingly, the Sharks only arrived in Sydney on Wednesday in a bid to beat jet lag.
Bernard Foley trudged off in the 20th minute for a head injury assessment and during this time the Lions troubled the score attendants courtesy of a try to winger Madosh Tambwe.
The NSW No.10 returned in the 28th minute. Gibson would have breathed a sigh of relief given he picked a 6-2 bench for this fixture.
The first half was mostly a scrappy affair, with knock-ons and turnovers more prevalent than in most of the Waratahs other matches this season.
Damien Fitzpatrick had a tough evening with his lineout throws as NSW coughed up possession they worked doggedly for.
The errors piled up and resulted in a scoreless first half for the Waratahs.
At 7-0, the game threatened to be the lowest-scoring affair between the two sides. It equalled the previous mark of 29 points in 2008.
Speaking at half-time to Fox Sports, Gibson said NSW had “lacked that killer punch” and conceded his men looked a fraction slow after a six-day turnaround.
He then added: “This is going to be a big lineout for us”. Sure enough, the Lions dived over and scored their second try of the evening.
However, furious Waratahs fans pointed to the big screen, desperately trying to make it known that Kwagga Smith had actually dropped the ball over the line.
"Everyone missed it," Gibson said. "All the officials, even I saw it late as well. That wasn't the reason we lost the game."
It was a lost cause and that frustration was compounded six minutes later when Harold Vorster scored the visitors third five-pointer of the evening down the right edge.
The Lions were completely dominant in the first 20 minutes of the second half and time and again opted to pack a scrum instead of taking the three points on offer when they were ahead 19-0.
An average crowd at Allianz Stadium became disgruntled with what they saw. Not only was the quality of football not to their liking but also the time-wasting restarts were tiresome.
A penalty to Elton Jantjies in the 71st minute put the margin beyond three converted tries and that was time for scores of Waratahs fans who had had enough to make their way for the exit.
LIONS 29 (Marnus Schoeman, Kwagga Smith, Madosh Tambwe, Harold Vorster tries Elton Jantjies 3 cons pen) bt NSW WARATAHS 0 at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Mike Fraser.
Tom Decent is a journalist with Fairfax Media.
Morning & Afternoon Newsletter