Booing erupted from the crowd when Sonny Bill Williams took the field in Dunedin last weekend for his first game of Super Rugby since the season before last.
Later, one report called it "good-natured" but it didn't sound like it. Television commentators were stunned.
That was before anyone had drawn attention to the tape on his collar, a religious objection to wearing the brand of one of the sponsors that finance his life.
Religion commands a strangely selective respect these days.
We don't need to respect the reason we're having a holiday this weekend. If towns are open for business as usual, nobody is going to succeed with an objection that Easter is the defining Christian event on the calendar.
We're not obliged to respect every religious belief.
The Islamic objection to charging interest on borrowed money is not respectable, it's nuts.
To accept a bank's money and refuse to carry out you're part of the bargain is even less respectable. But enough of Sonny Bill.
I was more interested in the response of another Bill.
Invited to comment, many a political leader would have been afraid to criticise a fairly good All Black. English questioned Williams' team spirit, which is what worries many rugby fans.
After one or two initial stumbles in December, English is really finding his feet.
Two political polls came out while I was away. Reid Research had National on 47 per cent and Labour on 30 percent, Colmar Brunton had, National at 46 percent, Labour 30 per cent. So, no change.
TV3 decided the news in its Reid poll was that English's personal rating was not as high as John Key's. TVNZ looked down its Colmar Brunton results and highlighted the Maori Party's rise to 4 percent. But the real news was National's no change.
Those polls were taken just after English announced an increase in the age of entitlement to national superannuation. Despite its timidity (an increase of two years starting 20 years hence) the decision was predicted by most commentators to be a political mistake, an "own-goal", a gift to Winston Peters in election year.
English and Stephen Joyce smiled confidently through all these forecasts and it turns out they were right. Superannuation is not quite the sacred cow the oracles had supposed. English had calculated that it would so him no harm, and possibly some good, to tackle an issue Key could not touch.
The only reason Key paralysed himself on superannuation was that, coming to power he had yet to win the voters' trust and Labour was doing it utmost to suggest he would wreck what remained of the welfare state. Within three years of taking office, Key had won enough trust to go to the next election with an asset sales programme. He could probably have done something about the superannuation age in his second term if his promise had not been so blunt.
Never in my lifetime has a third term government retained such a commanding lead over its main rival at it heads for a fourth election. English is a very different personality from Key but the public, I think, is finding the difference refreshing.
SHARE THIS QUOTE:
But at least he left English with a perfect way to put a new face on the Government. It is always good to see a little courage rewarded. Governments do not often survive changes of leader. Think Bolger to Shipley, Lange to Palmer, Kirk to Rowling, Holyoake to Marshall, Holland to Holyoake. That is all the mid-term changes in New Zealand in my lifetime and none of them have enabled the government to survive the next election.
This transfer is different because the transfer happened with the Government in good shape. Even so, English decided to put his own stamp on it quickly and, so far, it seems to be working.
Never in my lifetime has a third term government retained such a commanding lead over its main rival at it heads for a fourth election. English is a very different personality from Key but the public, I think, is finding the difference refreshing. English is a country boy, a Wellington schooled, highly educated political careerist but a country boy at heart.
A book was published this week entitled 'New Zealand's Prime Ministers from Dick Seddon to John Key', written by historian Michael Bassett who was in Parliament with 11 of them. Reading it, I have been struck by the disproportionate success of country people in our politics.
Bassett notes that the National Party has never really been a country party. By the time it was formed in 1936, mechanisation had drastically reduced the numbers working on farms. Manufacturing, commerce and public services were rapidly expanding the populations of towns and cities. Yet while National has produced four urban Prime Ministers, Holland, Marshall, Muldoon and Key, it has been led by just as many from a rural background, Holyoake, Bolger, Shipley and English.
We may be an overwhelmingly urban society now but when the Prime Minister shears a sheep or we mark the passing of John Clarke, country life is never far away.