ANY GIVEN MONDAY with Dylan Cleaver
There's an advertising campaign doing the rounds at the moment that "stars" Steve Hansen as a trenchcoat-wearing John le Carre character, using coded language to facilitate the swap of secret dossiers.
It's an Oscar-worthy, tour de force performance. "Shag" was born to play this role; he had no need to go method. His coaching career has been built not just upon his intricate knowledge of rugby and man management, but more recently on his ability to control the message.
Nothing about the All Blacks from a tactical or personnel standpoint gets into the public domain unless Hansen chooses so. And as his reign at the helm of world rugby's most successful machine winds down, he seems to be enjoying a new lease of mystique.
This sense was only heightened after the weekend's squeaker in Buenos Aires featuring an experimental lineup and some curious tactics.
With the caveat that things always tend to come into a sharper focus in hindsight, 2019 feels much different to 2015, where everything seemed so settled, or even eight years ago when Hansen was still assistant and the All Blacks were faced with 24 years' worth of disquiet.
Before the last tournament, the lineup was settled. Senior players were entrenched in key positions. Palace intrigue was limited to such trifling matters as third hooker and whether Victor Vito's credentials extended to lock cover.
There was a serenity to 2015 that instilled confidence. There have been too many missteps to take tournament wins for granted – five of them to be exact – but heading into the England-hosted tournament it felt like it was going to take an awfully good team, or an awfully poor All Black performance, to dethrone them.
Everything about this campaign looks more opaque. The 20-16 win against Argentina only served to further blur the big picture.
The test, which had all the lead-up buzz of a pre-season friendly, might have provided the coaches with a few points of interest, but unless they're airpoints it's difficult to see what use they'll be come September.
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Here is just a snippet of what became a fairly arduous post-match internal monologue.
Ardie Savea has to start the big games at the World Cup, right?
Yeah, of course.
Well, openside obviously.
Hang on a minute, you know Hansen couldn't love Sam Cane any more if he was raised in the Hakataramea Valley and flew gliders.
Yeah, true that. No 8 then… hang on, that's where the skipper… he can't play six, surely.
Damn, what was the question again?
And so on. Other points traversed were the uncertainty at blindside, the back three configurations, Sonny Bill's knees and the dinky-kicking game. There was more, but let's leave it at that because it gets exhausting and there's still a month or so of this to come.
Deciphering the code sent from Stadio José Amalfitani seemed not so much pointless as missing the point - rugby desperately needs a bit of mystery.
It hasn't been an easy sell of late. The All Blacks were fairly ordinary in Europe late last year and apart from one epic all-New Zealand semifinal, Super Rugby was a few months of collective ennui.
Into the void stepped the Black Caps and the Silver Ferns.
Both of them had intriguing, at times tortuous build-ups.
Maybe Hansen, never one to miss a trick, has recognised this.
Like the spy who came in from the cold, he knows there is no point revealing all his secrets while the endgame is unfolding.