It is not even one full slate of matches into the eighth World Cup and already I'm screaming "Seize the day" at the imaginary World Rugby comintern sipping on martinis in the corner of my lounge:
The Cherry Blossoms and the Lelos have lit up the opening weekend with victories of contrasting styles and surnames. I watched every minute of both games and didn't regret a second of it.
Whether it was Ayumu Goromaru outplaying any of the Springbok backs or Georgian flanker Viktor Kolelishvili dragging himself off the Kingsholme turf to make yet another tackle, it made for hypnotic viewing.
Here's the thing, though: unless World Rugby does more between tournaments, it will be just a flash in the pan.
There was a time, those with beards flecked with grey might remember, when the All Blacks went to Bucharest to play a test. They didn't take the lead until well into the second half and held on for a 14-6 victory.
Granted, Romanian rugby was essentially an army game and it was, ahem, propped up by a dubious regime, but instead of being embraced by the then-IRB and nurtured, they obviously didn't see any commercial value in the Eastern Bloc and it was allowed to die along with Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu.
They have never been to a World Cup where they have been anything except the most insignificant of minnows.
Since then Samoa, Fiji and to a lesser extent Tonga have all had their World Cup moments, threatened briefly the old order, but without ever getting the resources or support to mount a sustained challenge. Instead spurious reasons are given for not touring these places, like "Richie might get an infection if he falls over and cuts his knee on Apia Park". Or (my personal favourite), "We can't squeeze it into our packed calendar because we're going to England, Scotland and Ireland again instead".
It's easy to identify the problem, much harder to come up with a solution. I don't have one that won't be shot down by a thousand men in expensive suits, but how about the facility for second-tier competitions to run alongside the established Rugby Championship and Six Nations tournaments.
Apparently there's already something running in Europe, with Georgia, Romania, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Germany currently competing in the second tier. For the rest of the world you could have an extended Pacific Nations Cup.
The only way they'll get better, however, is with the possibility of upward mobility - yes, promotion-relegation.
If you're smart you'll notice that this is far more easily achieved in Europe (in fact, with Italy being consistently useless, it probably should have happened already). The Rugby Championship is already insanely spread out and that's just with four teams.
But something has to give. Japan and Georgia have proved great things could happen to rugby with a little foresight and encouragement. The island nations had already shown it, but nobody was prepared to do anything about it. Perhaps Japan's commercial attractiveness might be the tipping point. Hope so.
Wrote Justin Marshall: "Ireland and Wales put some points on Canada and Uruguay respectively, but the majority of games were very close. It means the game is growing up."
I beg to respectfully differ. It means Japan and Georgia are lucky to have one of those serendipitous moments in time when good coaching - Eddie Jones for Japan, Milton Haig for Georgia - allied to a decent crop of players sees some fleeting success.
For the game to truly grow up, the sport's leaders have to ensure those teams continue to have the opportunity to close the gap. With the power and money of the game concentrated in the hands of so few, that is not going to happen.
Instead we'll be sitting back in our recliners, watching the 2035 RWC from, surprise, surprise, the United Kingdom, wondering which two of France, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa will miss the semifinals.
So whisper it down the halls of World Rugby, "Carpe diem, carpe diem."
GIVE 'EM A TASTE OF KIWI...
Just in case Japan are feeling smug about themselves, we offer Marc Ellis, who wasn't too interested in passing when he played the Cherry Blossoms.
I'm buying... Milton Haig
He impressed me at Counties, setting the foundations of Tana Umaga's success there. Mentoring Georgia to a couple of wins at the World Cup would surely raise his chances of getting a well-paid gig in France - unless he sees his long-term future in Tbilisi.
I'm selling...Old locks
Jamie Cudmore, Paul O'Connell and especially Victor Matfield all looked off the pace on the opening weekend, indicating the second row of the scrum might no longer be the place for grizzled veterans. This might be unfair on O'Connell, who was unlucky to get a yellow card against Cudmore's Canada, but he looked plodding playing next to the dynamic Iain Henderson. As for Matfield, he just looked shot to bits. Does the champion have anything left?
The Guardian presents this search for the soul of English rugby quite beautifully.
MY LAST $10
Every week I will make one $10 bet. The goal is to get to December 31 with more money than I would have had if I had put it in the bank.
Last week: A classic good news/ bad news scenario. Good news - a united football club from Lancashire lost in the Champions League. Bad news - it cost me $10.
This week: I'm backing Blossom. Well not quite, but I'm keen on Japan with a 15.5+ points start against Scotland at $1.87 for a potential collect of $18.70.
Total spent: $130 Total collected: $102.90
One of those weeks where the bag runneth over, such is the disgust at the nefarious side of schoolboy rugby. But before we get there, there's more thought on Simon Mannering and his hold on the Warriors' captaincy.
A short note about Simon Mannering. I am also in the camp which admires his work ethic and "leadership by example". The problem seems to me, however, that he is unable to effectively organise the team on the field. I'm not sure whose responsibility it is to align the defence, but that needs improvement and perhaps a different "organisational leader".
Unlike many other casual pundits, however, I am loathe to be too adamant as clearly the coaches know a lot more about what is going on - who is asked to do what, who is adhering to the game plan - than I do, but it is still a frustrating watch when they seem plagued by the same old problems. Mind you, with such a tight competition there are very slim margins between success and failure and I am enjoying the contests the finals games are delivering.
Thanks Mike, well said. Nobody doubts Mannering's value to the side. To lose him would be almost unthinkable, but whether he is the best captain or not is a valid debate our league pundits seem too anxious to avoid.
Now, on to what is obviously one of New Zealand sport's hot-button topics: schoolboy rugby.
Dear Dylan, I have been deeply concerned about the coverage surrounding these boys.
I have seen headlines screaming that they are cheats and while I am sure you didn't intend it your column it adds to the put-down these boys who have played their hearts out must be suffering from.
I am not being critical of you. You, like me, are a journalist and much of what you say may be true, probably is, but mate these kids who are being publicly vilified repeatedly in the media are absolute victims.
That principals and others who saw fit to take the High Road of self-righteousness, no doubt spurred by some degree of base jealously, have taken an action that I believe will have severely hurt many kids is unconscionable. As teachers and educators they should have known better.
If [Rotorua Boys' High] teachers in fact knew and were trying to pull a swifty, shame on them, but I think we have to at least give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn't know. And I would guarantee that those kids whose glory in winning the national championship has been truly kicked in the guts didn't know - and even if they did, they would not been in a position not to follow their masters' decisions.
As I say, think of those boys. They are heroes. They didn't get to win through anything but huge hard work and dedication and adults who could have fixed the rules and ensured there would be no more stuff ups behind closed doors, to me are real losers.
They have so lost my respect and to my mind they have abrogated their right to be in charge of young people and their futures.
Regards, Peter Verschaffelt (abridged)
Thanks Peter for your passionate points. None of the ineligible kids were ever mentioned by name, in part to guard against vilification, but even then I don't think many people are blaming them.
The whole premise of your argument is, however, that we should give RBHS the benefit of the doubt and that they were the mere victims of some little known and arcane rules. I do not believe this "benefit of the doubt" is in any way warranted, unfortunately. In fact, I would argue the school has gone out of their way to downplay the scale of their rule-breaking over the course of the season.
The real victims here are the boys in 1st XVs whose schools played by the rules. In an even wider sense, the real victims are the schools that regularly lose talent to these big, rugby-obsessed schools.
I hate the big schools.
I teach in Westport, Buller High School, population 338. I'm the cricket coach and oh my god what might have been. A Year 13 this year is in his 3rd year at St Andrew's in Christchurch on a cricket scholarship. A kid who would have been Year 13 last year hit 94 not out to win a game to get the 1st XI in to the club final as a Year 10, went to Nelson College on a hockey scholarship. Good on them, the hockey kid made the NZ U18s and the cricket kid is now firmly in the Canterbury system - hopefully he kicks on in the next couple of years and makes a name for himself.
In 2003 or thereabouts, Buller HS of all places made the South Island final of the Gillette Cup, the premier schoolboy competition. That would not have happened with my boys the last couple of years, but we would have got a lot further than we did.
My point is this - the national/regional sporting bodies have a role to play here as well. If they could communicate with these kids and say, "Hey, we see you, you will definitely get your chance, and we will travel over a few times to do some work," then that would be for the better in the regions. However we clapped our guys as they've left over the hill and said, "Well done, you got out of here and now you have a chance." It's just damn sad.
Yes this is a bleat and the whole, "Woe is us, we compete so well for what we have." But at schoolboy level it's such a shame to watch possibilities go up in smoke.
Like you say, social progress is important, but the private and boys schools do ruin the regions sometimes.
Cheers, Michael Anderson (abridged)
Thanks so much for your letter Michael. I really do hope those in charge of regional, national and school sport read this and at the very least pause for thought.
Thank you, at long last an investigation is being done on 1st XV rugby.
I have followed games in Auckland and the Super 8 competition for the last 3 years and at times it has been hard to watch.
The Rotorua Boys' principal saying he didn't know the rules is rubbish. [Withheld] left a prominent Auckland boys school to go to a provincial city due to the family taking a promotion, and what a job to get through the red tape so [withheld] could continue playing rugby.
Thanks Trish. A common theme of the calls and emails I have had since the story broke was that it is inconceivable that RBHS did not know rules were being broken.
Great article Dylan, smoke and mirrors abound in school sports these days and you're never quite sure what you're watching.
On the other side of the coin, I was captain of the Scots College 1st XV in 1976 and we were never allowed to go near playing the top teams from Wellington College, St Pat's Town and St Pat's Silverstream... probably rightly so, mind you. As a result, I revel in the Scots Rugby Academy team or whatever it's called giving them all a bit of a thrashing and score points with my mates on the topic whenever I can - they certainly rubbed my nose in it over the years.
Thanks John, and one of the points we should stress is and which you have done in a roundabout way is that the passion that exists for our schools and for rugby is one of the reasons New Zealand has been so successful.
This is by no means the end of the bag. There will be more to come on this subject next week.
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Correspondence may be edited for errors and abridged.