It was a grand final rematch but only one side looks like they can make their way back to Super Rugby's showpiece.
The Chiefs dropped a second straight crunch clash and, with just one win from their last six games, this can no longer be called an early-season slump.
Certainly not with the humbling they received at the hands of the Brumbies tonight.
While the two teams came into the encounter level on 25 points, the Brumbies had six wins in this campaign to the Chiefs' four - and the disparity showed.
It was five tries to two and the Chiefs were desperately lucky to earn that return.
While the defending champions still sit on top of the New Zealand conference, that falsely inflated position could come to an end as early as tomorrow night.
The fall would hardly be undeserved. The Chiefs have yet to turn in a convincing 80-minute performance this season and perhaps the only positive is this nadir should cause some real soul-searching in Hamilton.
A double-digit injury list hardly helps, especially when one absentee is talisman Aaron Cruden, but Dave Rennie's outfit have always preached depth and a team-first ethos able to overcome any loss in personnel.
The attacking malaise that has hampered the Chiefs in recent weeks continued throughout tonight's game, with a lack of imagination compounded by repeated handling errors. While much of the pre-match focus was on the respective teams' set piece, the Chiefs more than held their own only to be let down in an area in which they generally excel.
But that strength has traditionally come with Cruden at the helm and, once again without their main spark, the Chiefs were short of creativity and often forced the issue with ball in hand.
That led to a number of drops in promising positions, granting respite for the Brumbies' defence whenever the home side seemed to grow weary. Ill-discipline had a similar effect on the Chiefs' momentum, with seven penalties in the first half gifting the opposition improved field position.
One such instance led to the only try of the half, when the Brumbies' composure allowed Matt Toomua to eventually drag a couple of tacklers over the line from close range. The hosts could have been better off than their seven-point halftime lead were it not for the Chiefs much-maligned lineout winning all seven of their throws in a solid half.
Dave Rennie and co appeared to utilise the break to deliver the message about pressing in attack and it was a far more patient, probing Chiefs who returned. Unfortunately for their chances, a pair of sustained spells in possession - the second totalling 15 phases - both broke down without result.
Sandwiched between those moves, the Brumbies once again illustrated a cutting edge absent in their opposition, with Joe Tomane finishing a sharp move in the corner. Things soon got worse for the Chiefs when James Lowe was sent to the sin bin for tripping, and the extra man proved fruitful when Tevita Kuridrani crossed to give his side an unassailable lead.
The centre's second exploited an ocean of space rarely seen in Wayne Smith's days in charge of the defence, leaving late tries from Brad Weber and Josh Hohneck as the definition of consolation.
Brumbies 41 (Toomua 2, Tomane, Kuridrani 2 tries; Leali'ifano 2 pens, con, White 2 pens, con)
Chiefs 23 (Webber, Hohneck tries; Anscombe 3 pens, Horrell 2 cons)