Seven talking points from rugby this week.
ONE DAY THE BOY CRYING OUT MAY HAVE ACTUALLY SEEN A WOLF
The biggest story in rugby this week by far was the suggestion, mooted in England's Daily Mail, that South Africa is about to desert southern competitions, and play in what will become the Seven Nations in Europe.
If it's true that's a massive sea change for New Zealand too, and makes the job for New Zealand Rugby's new CEO Mark Robinson a minefield.
The key words here are "if it's true". Two things could make you hesitate. One is the source. In 2005 every, and I mean every, British rugby writer had it on impeccable authority that the 2011 World Cup would be awarded to Japan. They were all wrong, and reacted, not with any sense of embarrassment, but with bile. One, Peter Bills, suggested "the game has turned its back on tomorrow", and that was one of the kinder comments. The other is that this is far from the first time it's been said that South African rugby was heading north. Usually those rumours have started when South Africa wants some concessions in Super Rugby or in the southern international season.
• Super Rugby: Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown says All Blacks protocol costs some players their careers
• Rugby: Scott Robertson opens up on All Blacks coaching snub and outlook for coaching future
• Super Rugby: Chiefs to rest All Blacks for away trip to face the Sunwolves in Tokyo
• Rugby: All Blacks parting ways with major sponsor AIG
That said, a move to European competitions for South Africa makes huge sense. The travel will be much kinder on bodies, given that there's only a two hour time difference between London and South Africa. There's also, in the professional world, so much more money sloshing around in Europe than in, by comparison, sparsely populated New Zealand and Australia.
This time it may be that the phoney war over South African rugby leaving for Europe is actually real.
AND THIS IS WHAT WE'D MISS
The Sharks' 42-20 demolition of the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday night put paid to any thoughts that South African sides haven't added much joy to Super Rugby anyway.
Makazole Mapimpi on the wing and Aphelele Fassi at centre were nothing short of sensational. They say Mapimpi – who last year became the first Springbok to score a try in a World Cup final – is only 91kg, but he plays with the bull-like strength of a man 20kg heavier. Just as dashing is the 22-year-old Fassi, who, like Mapimpi, fed off the Highlanders' odd tactics, against a highly organised rush defence from the Sharks, of short kicks, and hopeful cut out passes that way too often fell into opposition hands.
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IF YOU SEARCHED HARD ENOUGH THERE WAS A SPARK OF LIGHT IN THE HIGHLANDERS' RANKS
Aaron Smith, we all know, is the best passing halfback in New Zealand, and he's a damn good runner too. There was a moment 11 minutes into the second half against the Sharks, with his team down 30-10, that showed how fierce his commitment is too. With the Sharks looking likely to dash away for another try, Smith ran his heart out to get to a bouncing ball first and kill the opportunity.
Joe Stanley, the 1987 World Cup winning All Black centre, once told me one of the aspects of rugby that fascinated him was how, unlike league, which he had played well enough as a very young man in Northland to make a pre-season Kiwis training camp, you had a responsibility beyond looking after the man you were marking one on one. "If you're really hurting (in a rugby game) and cover defending to help out your fullback, you're the only one who'll really know if you eased off and left him in the lurch." Put Aaron Smith down as one who would never leave a teammate in the lurch.
I'VE SEEN THE FUTURE SUPER RUGBY FINAL. IT WAS THE GAME IN HAMILTON
Warren Gatland said he thought it was "a 15 point wind" in Hamilton, so his Chiefs being down 12-8 at halftime against the Crusaders wouldn't have worried him too much. He was right to be confident. In what may well be an early season peek at the knockout stages there was never a hint of the Chiefs blinking in their 25-15 victory.
And, as was the case last week, a key man in the shrewd, level handed, cool hand Chiefs' set-up was Aaron Cruden. Two former first-fives in the strands, All Black coach Ian Foster and selector Grant Fox, had to have been impressed.
LET'S GIVE A HAND TO THE MAN FROM INGLEWOOD
A couple of years ago Taranaki captain Mitchell Brown reckoned he was probably "the shortest lock in super rugby" at 1.94m (6ft 3in) but against the Crusaders he was as dynamic as he had been against the Blues. Time as a loose forward has left him with terrific skills as a tackler, and he seems to relish the dark, sweaty battles at the maul too.
When it comes to national selection, Brown may find himself in that awkward area of being a bit too short to be considered an international lock, and not quite agile enough to be a test loose forward. But Scott Barrett is only an inch taller, and every bit a world class lock. Figures alone may be the wrong way to judge Brown.
YES, THAT REALLY WAS THE BLUES
You fear getting too carried away when the Blues are involved, but that was an old fashioned hiding the Blues dished out to the Waratahs 32-12 in Newcastle.
What was a special delight was how, when the Tahs launched a comeback just before halftime, the Blues responded in the first four minutes of the second half with two tries to streak out to a 20-7 lead.
There's plenty of talent in the Blues. The problem has too often felt like a lack of belief. We'll get a real of idea of whether that issue is being resolved as early as next Friday, when the Crusaders will come to Eden Park.
MR TIETJENS KNOWS TALENT WHEN HE SEES IT
Sevens guru Gordon Tietjens tried to sign up Mark Telea for the Samoan side three years ago, when Telea was only 20. Telea decided to stick with the Massey club North Harbour and now the Blues. As he scorched away for three tries in Newcastle, the Blues must be hugely grateful Tietjens' powers of persuasion weren't quite good enough.