The Western Force dream of an historic first Super Rugby finals appearance came to a shuddering halt with a 47-25 loss to the Brumbies last night.
They fell at the last hurdle and while disappointment was obvious, the rejuvenated Force can be proud of their remarkable record-breaking season.
But immediately after the loss, Force coach Michael Foley gave the Australian Rugby Union a blast over their handling of winger Nick Cummins' departure and the way they let him slip through their fingers to play in Japan.
Cummins has cited family reasons for leaving, the chance to earn money to help support two siblings who have cystic fibrosis and his father who has been diagnosed with incurable cancer.
"Australian rugby, in my opinion, got caught with its pants down letting him go to Japan," Foley said.
"It's something we've got to think really hard about at a time when we are talking about the commercial chall- enges of the game and we let a player like that go.
"I don't just mean an international player but a player with that profile and that appeal across demographics that very few other players touch.
"As a coach I'd really love him to come back and I'm encouraging Mark Sinderberry our chief executive to make it happen."
Foley said last night's loss was disappointing but he was proud the way his side battled to the end and scored three second-half tries.
Too many missed tackles by the Force and the display in the second 20 minutes hurt them.
"Early on we didn't defend well enough. We let them get out too far in the first half," Foley said. "We missed some one-on-one tackles and that made the difference.
"When the score got right out there it is easy to get disappointed. We were still fighting … disappointed tonight, but still very proud of the boys."
The introduction of experienced scrum-half Alby Mathewson in the second period added much-needed spark, but he could not lift the Force to a fairytale finish despite tries to Pek Cowan, Chris Tuatara-Morrison and Zack Holmes.