The Queensland Reds may have the fight to match their Super Rugby rivals but coach Brad Thorn admits his team is just not at the level required to beat the competition's best.
The Reds put in a gutsy display against the red-hot Jaguares at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night but slipped to a 34-23 defeat.
It's the ninth loss of the Reds' campaign, leaving them second-last on the ladder.
Thorn said his team is getting better but clearly still has progress to make.
"It's tough as a coach because it's four games in a row now where they've really fronted and competed hard but you've got to go down in the sheds and you didn't quite get there," Thorn said.
"You've got to earn that right. It's not just given to you. You've got to win those little moments that have big impacts on the game.
"They're not far away in my opinion, but there's a bit to go."
The Reds started brightly when Chris Feauai-Sautia opened the scoring but Santiago Carreras and Felipe Ezcurra both scored tries for the visitors to nab a 15-13 halftime lead.
An early penalty to Bryce Hegarty put the Reds back in front early in the second half but the introduction of the entire reserve forwards for the Jaguares with 30 minutes to go swung the match.
Several of those coming on are Test regulars for Argentina and it was Pumas pair Julian Montoya and Marcos Kremer who both scored to open up a 29-16 lead.
The Reds didn't give up and gave themselves hope of an unlikely comeback when Jock Campbell scored in the 77th minute.
Needing a converted try to snatch a win, the Reds mounted one last attack but Samu Kerevi's pass to Filipo Daugunu was intercepted by winger Carreras, who sprinted 80m to seal the win and a bonus point for the visitors.
The victory keeps the Jaguares on top of the South African conference and on track for a historic home quarter-final in Buenos Aires.
It also means they have now won three matches from three against Australian opposition in 2019, including back-to-back road wins over the NSW Waratahs and Reds.
"We were expecting a really tough game ... there was no surprise the breakdown zone, the tackle zone was really tough from both sides," Jaguares coach Gonzalo Quesada said.
"It was tough today to play rugby, to go for several phases. Both teams struggled to put their rugby out there but sometimes the games go that way. I'm quite happy we got the win."
The Jaguares return to Argentina to host the Sharks next week while the Reds host the Blues in Brisbane.