ANY GIVEN MONDAY
The new decade is talking and it has sent a strong message: the days of the All Black sabbatical are dying.
The start of the Super Rugby season has been a low-crowd, low-energy sort of deal and while part of that is the traditional first-year-of-a-World Cup-cycle malaise, part of it is also an increasing scepticism around the tournament's place in the greater scheme of things.
Sanzaar cannot on the one hand say it's serious about recalibrating – recoded, maybe? – Super Rugby (again) to be more fan and investor-friendly, while New Zealand Rugby on the other hand lets its best players start late and miss entire campaigns.
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The two philosophies do not gel.
This might not be fair on NZR, which has done a hell of a lot better job of keeping its best players in Super Rugby than its South African and Australian counterparts, but it has to make a call as to whether this competition is something worth fighting for.
If you spend just a few minutes reimagining rugby, it's easy to see a future without it. It doesn't take a giant leap to envisage a future where French comic book magnates, English venture capitalists and Japanese industrialists do the heavy lifting and pay the salaries of New Zealand's best, with the NPC then reinvented to fill the void.
The argument against this sort of strategic shift has revolved around the broadcasting money that would leave on the table, but recent events in Australia has demonstrated that there is a finite appetite for rugby content that sells itself short.
Sabbaticals are the most obvious example of short-selling.
It had its place, arguably, but was always an inelegant, temporary fix for a long-term problem. The fact it was conceived by player agents rather than the national body speaks to whom it mostly benefits.
The rugby sabbatical was more than a cute misnomer; it was a mostly pragmatic response to New Zealand Rugby's greatest challenge – how do you convince your best players to stay for less?
When the money for Super Rugby players was at least competitive with what was on offer up north, the gravitational pull of the Black Jersey™ was enough. When a wave of modern players with wanderlust realised that being an All Black was hard work and the pay was not really commensurate with either the status or the physical damage a solution was sought.
It kind of worked. The All Blacks rolled to consecutive World Cups and coaches and administrators could rightly claim that every string they pulled resulted in the right action.
They don't have that luxury now. Where sabbaticals were viewed as a necessary evil, now you can drop the "necessary". The more cynical see them as nothing more than an enrichment scheme for the superstars rather than a genuine way of recuperating tired bodies and minds.
Super Rugby has become a bit of a punching bag. Because of the patently ridiculous logistics involved, some of it is understandable, but even accounting for the life-sapping Brumbies the on field product is fine. It's usually probably better than fine.
The rugby is good. There, I've said it.
Yeah, we can laugh about the Blues finding new ways to disenfranchise themselves from the country's population centre – this time by way of the lineout – but if you strip all the extraneous stuff away, then for 80 minutes you have a sporting product that's better than it is often given credit for.
Unfortunately for the game's custodians, the product as a whole can't survive between the opening whistle and fulltime siren.
It boils down to something as simple as this: if your message to the public is that Super Rugby is not important enough for your superstars to commit to without escape clauses, eventually they will start listening.
When the Blues star recruit watches his team stumble from afar, we've reached that point now.
This Black Caps squad makes a lot more sense than the one picked for the start of the summer.
Mind you, that wouldn't be hard.
The headline grabber today was Mitchell Santner, who exhausted the patience of the selectors with his returns in Australia.
The popular theory is that Santner is too talented to be gone for long and the axing will be the kick up the bum he needs.
Santner is supremely talented, but he's also a walking contradiction. He looks like he has the gift of time… until he's batting. His movement is borderline balletic… until he's bowling.
More important than impressions, his first-class career has never presented a case for test inclusion.
Santner is a white-ball cricketer. His bowling is built for it and he is a capable cameo-hitter with the bat.
There's nothing wrong with that either. It should be a source of immense pride. There are thousands of kids around the country who dream about the prospect of playing cricket for their country in coloured clothing.
Santner, 28, has a good chance of becoming an ODI and T20I great.
It's a more likely outcome than trying to turn him into something he's not.