ANY GIVEN MONDAY
If the All Blacks wanted their final pool match to be a stress-free tune-up before the knockout phase of the World Cup, they have the misfortune to be facing a team that will be playing for its life on Saturday.
Then again, they have the great fortune that the team in question is Italy.
Gli Azzurri remain World Rugby's greatest embarrassment. Despite being handed a giant leg-up they neither deserved nor earned by virtue of the unchallenged position in one of the rugby's two big annual tournaments, Italy have retained the faith by remaining defiantly useless.
The great Five Nations tournament was turned into a not-quite-as-great Six Nations to accommodate Italy at the turn of the century. They won their first match, 34-20 against Scotland, seemingly justifying their inclusion. It would be three years before they won another game.
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Their futility since has been truly frightening.
They have suffered almost as many clean sweeps (9), as they have enjoyed wins in the Six Nations (12). Scotland is the only team they have beaten more than twice. They have never beaten England and have not won a Six Nations game since 2015.
Since inclusion, they have won just one test against a Rugby Championship side, somehow defeating South Africa 20-18 in Florence in 2016.
If you're worried that this is prime bulletin board material for a desperate side, then you're untethered from reality as Argentina are the only Tier One side they have defeated at a World Cup and that was way back in 1995 when the game was still amateur and Los Pumas were more amateur than most.
While these things are a matter of taste, few would argue that Italy's best player has been Sergio Parisse. Others that might squeeze their way into the conversation are disruptive prop Martin Castrogiovanni and first five Diego Dominguez.
All three are Argentine.
Since inclusion in the Six Nations, Italy have been coached by, in order, Brad Johnstone, John Kirwan, Pierre Berbizier, Nick Mallett, Jacques Brunel and Conor O'Shea. That's two Kiwis, two Frenchman, a South African and an Irishman.
So, let's list the things Italian rugby has not done since afforded privileged Tier One status:
•They have not finished above fourth in the Six Nations;
•They have not won more than two games in a Six Nations season;
•They have not beaten England;
•They have not advanced beyond pool play at a World Cup;
•They have not developed any good homegrown players;
•They have not developed any good, homegrown coaches.
Italy are a monument to World Rugby's skewed priorities. While teams with genuine rugby pedigree like Georgia, Romania, Japan and the Pacific Island nations are forced to look on from the fringes, Italy, where rugby remains so deeply in football's shadow it is only visible two or three days a year, is gift-wrapped Tier One status.
It will probably be gift-wrapped a World Cup hosting in the near future, too, due to its "commercial potential".
Italy don't deserve their privileged status, but they do deserve something: they'll deserve it when the All Blacks hang another big score on them and send them home from another tournament where the only thing of note they've achieved is a spear tackle for the ages.
Shortly after the All Blacks wrapped up formalities against Namibia, the Roosters and Raiders went to battle in the NRL's showpiece match.
The contrasts were stark and not all of them had to do with the competitiveness of the match. The most startling polarity was the attitude of the officials around contact to the head.
One code is taking it very, very seriously; the other just doesn't care.
The All Blacks lost two props – Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu'ungafasi - to yellow cards in their Pool B romp.
World Rugby has cracked down on high tackles to the point where they even criticised their own officials for not brandishing enough sanctions after the World Cup's opening weekend.
The United States' John Quill, Uruguay's Facundo Gattas and Argentina's Tomas Lavanini have all been sent off for head-high tackles while Italy prop Andrea Lovotti was given his marching orders for a spear tackle on Duane Vermeulen, an offence for which his colleague Nicola Quaglio could just as easily have been marched.
Samoa's Ed Fidow has also seen red at the World Cup, but for two yellow card offences in the same game rather than a single, dangerous incident.
Throw in 17 yellow cards and you have a tournament where the quality of rugby has unquestionably been affected by the numerical mismatches on the field.
It frustrates the coaches, no doubt, but most are in lockstep that the sport has to change if it wants a robust future.
All Black coach Steve Hansen articulated the delicate balancing act between tough and too tough after the Namibia win.
"I thought the two yellow cards were fair under the guidelines, but it is tough when a player is falling and you are committed, [because] then there are going to be times when you make connection and I'm not sure how you can avoid that," he said.
"It is difficult at the moment."
It's a "difficulty" that doesn't seem to have cramped league's style too much. It remains the Wild West as far as contact with the head goes. Even the NRL's move to a head injury assessment system has been met by admissions that coaches are using it to try to gain a strategic advantage.
Referees are either blind to the issue of high tackles or are under instruction to maintain 13-on-13 at all costs as the threshold for a yellow card seems to be somewhere just north of grievous bodily harm.
Two years ago, The Roar website ran a story that highlighted that between Round 12 in 2008 – when two players were sent off – and August 2017, just five players had been sent off in 242 rounds of NRL, one every 357 games. Only one of the five send-offs occurred when the game was in the balance (and the referee who sent that player off was sacked the following week).
At the time of that publication, there had been no players sent off in finals matches since the NRL was formed.
The head is not so much sacrosanct in the NRL as it is a legitimate moving target. If someone didn't catch an arm across the face in a tackle last night, or have his head pushed into the turf post-tackle, it was probably because they didn't make a hit-up.
If I'm a parent of a league-crazy kid at the moment, I'm watching the NRL going: "Really, that's what you want to do with your life?"
This is not a pro-rugby rant, or an anti-league diatribe. Both codes have their pluses and minuses. On pure sporting terms, last night's Grand Final was a much better game than the festival-like pairing of the world's best rugby side versus that ranked 23rd in the world.
The 13-man code has to acknowledge it still has a problem when it comes to protecting the head, however.
They either don't care enough or they aren't doing enough to protect the most important element of their product – the athletes.
Either way, it's a million miles from good enough.
Unless attitudes in the NRL change, Steve Folkes will not be just a cautionary tale, he will be the first of many.
THE MONDAY LONG READ
Hat-tip to the Herald's poker expert (but only very rarely second-day player) Steve Holloway, who found this gem on a cheating scandal in The Ringer.