In an attempt to reconnect with rugby, the Herald's sports editor at large Dylan Cleaver watches every minute of every Super Rugby game over the weekend.
Who in their right mind commits to watching an entire round of Super Rugby, all 480 minutes of round 14 to be specific, in real time, on a weekend with just one local derby?
Sadly, I have - and I can't back out because I have told people I am doing it (1) - and now I'm regretting it.
The foul weather's not helping. Neither is the slower than usual crawl home on Auckland's Northern Motorway. Even my music is irritating rather than stimulating. I go radio silence and contemplate the weekend.
Why am I doing this? Worse still, why did I tell people I would do this? Apart from Saturday night's New Zealand Conference blockbuster between the Hurricanes and Chiefs - or, The Team I Once Loved But Who Cheated On Me (2) v The Team I Have Tried To Replace Them With But It's Not Quite The Same - it's hardly a blockbuster slate of matches.
There will be No MySky, no cheating by recording the Cheetahs v Highlanders - or, The Only Saffa Team I Have Any Sympathy For v Everyone's Second Favourite Team - and watching later in a leisurely fashion over a poached egg and a vivalto lungo. I am there at dark-and-cold o'clock.
I want to reconnect with rugby. It's World Cup year and I've lost touch. It's not all rugby's fault, truth be told, but it's not like the sport has reached out to me either.
Fact is, the two months of the Cricket World Cup were some of the best weeks I've ever experienced. It was all consuming, yes, but in a relaxing kind of way. It was an anti-Rugby World Cup in that it was fun, that expectation built only incrementally, and even the few dolts who suggested New Zealand should have changed their entire approach because they made the final couldn't rain on the parade.
Rugby World Cups are not like that. Our collective paranoia, built on 123 years of being the best except at World Cups not staged in New Zealand, means that where others see a bed of roses, we see tripwires and Wayne Barnes-shaped landmines... Hang on, that can wait - back to the matter at hand.
There was just no room in my life for rugby, and there was bugger-all to bring me back to the sport until the Blues imploded. Now this was fascinating, a textbook study in how not to go about everything. A slow-speed Humvee crash in which the Blues administration was shown to be reactive and lily-livered, and chairman Tony Carter's belated press release will go down as a masterpiece of missing the point (3).
So thank you Blues, this is kind of your fault, too.
(1) This is how I roll. I am weak. If I internalise, I can find myriad reasons to back out of things. If I think to myself, 'I'm not going to cook macaroni cheese again this week', I invariably will ignore myself. However, if I tell my wife I'm going to make something else, like fettucine, then I'm committed.
(2) This will be explained later.
(3) Blues statement: Coaching options remain on the table
GAME ONE: #BLUvBUL- 0 minutes down - 480 to go
Keven Mealamu shows the referee how many games the Blues won in April. Photo / Getty
I switch on in time for a bit of Sky build-up. I know I'm going to be disappointed as soon as I remember that Justin Marshall is in South Africa for a benefit for his ailing one-time halfback counterpart Joost van der Westhuizen. He's the one guy in that team who can combine been-there-done-that with sharp, contemporary analysis and just the right dose of boyish enthusiasm. You can imagine being in a pub with Marshall 25 minutes before kickoff and he'd be talking to you just like he is pre-match on telly, except he'd be shifting pints around on a leaner to make a point and generally making you feel like the next 80 minutes of your life is going to be a "bloody cracker".
His great mate Andrew Mehrtens might get there yet, but at this point he just never looks that well prepared.
Young Jordan Vandermade is in the pre-match hotseat and he's framing every question to Charles Piutau with "I've got to ask you this..." This is irritating. Then he comes up with: "It's been a tough week for the Blues, a lot of distractions and stuff like this." This is unintentionally hilarious and I forgive him.
Meanwhile, Sumo Stevenson is on the ground with Ian Smith, pound-for-considerable-pound the two most talented sports broadcasters in the country. Smith is doing his last Super Rugby game this season before taking two seats to fly to England for the Black Caps tour, LIVE ON SKY FROM THURSDAY. It's a shameless piece of cross promotion with a remarkable twist. In the course of asking about the Brendon McCullum-Mike Hesson regime, Sumo gets as close to any man in the past 35 years to getting Smith to admit he was wrong.
Sky's buildup frustrates me, so I usually avoid it. They're slick enough and they have great resources, but it's like they've got everyone in a room, cobbled together 50 ideas and chucked out all but the five most boring ones. So before this match kicks off I learn that the Bulls will be physical and Victor Matfield(4) is very good at those lineout thingies.
I grab a Liberty Halo Pilsner and we cross to the comforting tones of Tony Johnson.
Things immediately look ominous, with the Bulls dominating territory and using the lineout drive to great effect. Pierre Spies looks fully engaged. When I first saw Spies play I thought, "Bloody hell, he's going to be a thorn in All Black sides for the next 10 years," but it soon became obvious that he was really only interested in playing in the highlights packages. Kieran Read he is not.
Pierre Spies - No Kieran Read. Photo / Getty Images
Anyway, the Blues are getting beaten up all over the shop then Handre Pollard kicks a ball down Lolagi Visinia's throat and you can just tell the moment he slams his foot on the accelerator that he's thinking one thing only. Try! 10-6 Blues.
Visinia ran at the popo, Marcel van der Merwe, who never stood a chance, but it was more interesting to watch wing Francois Hougaard do everything he could not to have to make a tackle.
"The Blues can score from anywhere," is Mehrtens assessment minutes later. Yes, but the problem being that much more often than not they don't score from anywhere.
The Bulls have another lineout drive stymied. They're starting to look extremely predictable. After another move breaks down, Mehrtens says: "Pollard turned the shoulder in and telegraphed that pass." Better, much better.
Pollard is an interesting case. When he was out here for the Junior World Champs last year he was awesome and his first forays into the senior Springbok jersey were equally ominous, but Steve Hansen and co can take comfort in the fact that Pollard looks like he's already joined Patrick Lambie and Johan Goosen in the Springbokulator (5). Beauden Barrett he is not.
Pollard shimmies through a half gap and puts Jan Serfontein over for a try. He's a genius that Pollard.
Halftime sees the Blues inexplicably in the lead by 16-13. The ball was in play for that 40-minute half for 14m 4.04s. I know that because I timed it on my iPhone 4s. At least four of those 14 minutes were spent with the ball up various Bulls' jumpers as they tried to maul and drive their way over the Blues.
James Parsons says something about "getting around the corner" to score points in the second half, more evidence for those who believe Eden Park is a terribly shaped ground.
Replace Liberty Pilsner with Peroni. Learn from Twitter that Cory Jane is having a bubble bath.
George Moala is starting to assert himself. I was about to write that there was "real conviction" in his running, but have already wasted my cheap shot on Ian Smith.
Serfontein scores again and it looks like Steven Luatua has broken a wing. Can things get worse for the Blues I ask myself, largely rhetorically.
I really like Keven Mealamu (6).
Moala scores. When I go to type that on Twitter predictive text kicks in and calls him, "Morals". I LOL.
George Moala ran with real conviction. Photo / Getty Images
Sometime between Francis Saili bombing a try at 9.09pm and another Bulls lineout drive at 9.14pm Tony TJ Johnson schools Merhts on rugby tactics.
The Blues win! The ball was in play for 28m 46s in total, although I admit my timing was not quite as diligent in the second half.
After we get back from another EweGuard presentation (that actor/ farmer has a real future in either industry), we learn from Moala that the "boys really barred up". I LOL. Meanwhile, Vandermade's line of questioning seems restricted to: "It must be good to get the W?"
It's time to draw a line under this game.
(4) I'm amazed to learn Matfield is still only 38. It seems like a decade ago that he was 35. He's the sort of guy that, looks wise, went straight from puberty to 34, like late Irish actor Richard Harris.
(5) A machine that takes ultra-gifted young first-fives and turns them into Morne Steyn clones.
(6) Not in a Brokeback Mountain kind of way, or even a "Do you want to come around to my house and watch a vid?" sort of way. More like a, "Would you mind feeding my cat while we're away for the weekend" sort of way. I trust him. So when he says he didn't headbutt Lewis Moody at Twickenham in 2010, even when all the TV cameras suggest he did, I believe him. I'm with Steve Hansen on this (except for the "death" bit): "We're defending a guy who's character has been questioned and it shouldn't be. He's a one-off special person. He hasn't got a dirty bone in his body. He's not a dirty player, he never has been. This is a case we'll go to the death on."
GAME TWO: #REDvREB- 80 minutes down - 400 to go
Jordy Reid of the Rebels attempts to break free from the defence. Photo / Getty
There are two games I'm really not looking forward to this weekend and this is one of them (7).
Me of little faith. The Reds' Liam Gill, who I think is as good if not better than David Pocock and Michael Hooper but in a less show-off at the breakdown way, starts like a train and then Rebels wing Sefenaia Naivalu scores a try of breath-taking pace and beauty.
When it is played like this, rugby soars to heights you cannot imagine having sat through 80 minutes of the Bulls trying to set up lineout drives.
Greg Clarky Clark points out Jake McIntyre is the Reds ninth starting first-five since 2012 (8).
For no reason other than I suspect to say his name, Clarky points out that Fakaosilea is on the bench.
I'm watching Will Genia and I'm thinking, "You're just not very good anymore." This troubles me more than it should. I like rational explanations for things. When a player who loses form who I always thought was overrated, like Genia's teammates Quade Cooper and James O'Connor, you can sit back and say, "I knew it!" But Genia was otherworldly in 2011 and looked to have a game to overcome most vagaries.
What has happened to Will Genia? Email answers to Dylan.Cleaver@nzherald.co.nz Photo / Getty
Now I don't think he'll ever reach great heights again. Maybe it's like the last year of Jeff Wilson's rugby career. The guy was so unfeasibly talented and his skillset so complete, that it just didn't seem right that he was no longer match-winningly brilliant. Is it an optical illusion in that plateau's feel like drop-offs, I wonder? I will ring James McOnie, who unfailingly has excellent theories on things like this, and ask him (9).
The Reds trail 11-17 at halftime but this has turned out to be a surprisingly good game of footy. In fact, feeling suitably uplifted, I'm going to finish the night with a finger of Caol Ila, a fruity, smooth tipple that has restored my faith in Islay malts (10).
The Reds score four tries, most of them damn excellent. They also do this after I tweet enthusiastically that every Australian team James O'Connor has ever played for, like, "totally sucks". Reds win 46-29. My bad.
(7) Lions v Brumbies is the other, but that is due more to the 3am kickoff time than the anticipated quality of the match.
(8) Unless my ears deceived me, later he would say McIntyre was the 10th starting first-five since 2012. Whatever the case, it's a lot.
(9) McOnie fails to return call.
(10) Laphroaig and Ardbeg, two of the Islay big boys, have passionate followers, but I struggle with the overwhelming peatiness.
GAME THREE: #HURvCHI
- 160 minutes down, 320 to go
This is the one, the game I've been waiting all week for. The diamond that makes the other anticipated dross bearable... I hope.
I know I should be watching the build-up, but I just can't do it. We're a one-TV household and the kids are enjoying The Boy Who Cried Werewolf too much. In all conscience I can't subject them to Mark Stafford cheerfully trying to convince them to invest in the TAB.
I turn over in time for Jeff Wilson to remark what a great combination Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are. I relax. It's clear I haven't missed much.
We run through a few key match-ups and it seems there're a lot of people holding the key to this game. I hope there's a Mr Minit nearby.
I am halfway through a Panhead American styled pale ale. At 5.7% it's not outrageously strong but I feel strangely drunk when the players come out of the tunnel on to the Cake Tin and Sam Cane is suddenly running in live slo-mo (11). Then the Hurricanes run out and Ardie Savea is in slo-mo too. It suddenly dawns on me: this pretty neat TV trickery is giving us a clue as to who has visited Mr Minit.
Still, no more beersies for me.
Grant Nisbo Nisbett is behind the mic. Again, comforting although when it comes to the All Blacks and Hurricanes he has become more passive-bias as he has got older. When he doesn't editorialise (or blatantly ignore misdeeds by 'his' teams), he's a masterful play-by-play caller.
Ma'a Nonu scores. It's his 49th in Super Rugby, the most of any active player. It's another pinprick in the shriveling balloon marked 'The Hammett Years' (12). I feel sorry for the nuggety former All Black hooker. He is going to do some great things in his coaching career - like helping Spain qualify for the 2027 RWC - but he's forever going to be known in our nation's capital as the man who drove Nonu out of town.
Brodie Retallick walks on to the field in spectacles carrying water bottles and important messages. This is his Clark Kent-like alter ego. It's clever, it's cunning but I'm not sure CE or ST Meads would have ever felt the need for that sort of business.
Campo is impressed! (13)
Chiefs have a lineout. The call is "two". I don't know why, but in an era of hyper-analysis, when each team has their own Enigma code-breaking machine, the simplicity of this tickles me.
What doesn't tickle is the injury sustained by Michael Allardice (14). I'm sorry, that's not good enough. There is no excuse for Reg Goodes (15)propelling himself that low and at somebody's knees; it can only lead to injury. How the officials missed this defies belief.
Conrad Smith suffered another head knock. Photo / Getty Images
It also gives weight to my Nisbett passive-bias theory. It hardly gets a mention by the commentary team, apart from the fact it was a dreadful piece of luck for the Chiefs to lose another lock. Hell, if Allardice was, say, Richie McCaw, and Goodes was a bloke called Dean Greyling or Bismarck du Plessis, Nisbett would have been tut-tutting with the rest of us and Gregor Paul would have been writing columns (16).
With my No-Rewind policy, I can only paraphrase the following conversation:
Sumo: "Blah, blah, blah, is that the way you see it?"
Nonu: "Nah, not really."
Sumo: "Easy fix in the second half?"
Nonu: "We'll see."
Ah yes, just Ma'a being Ma'a, or Ma'a being too cool for school? You be the judge.
Westpac Stadium is beginning to resemble a mobile army surgical unit. This is why All Blacks selectors love and hate New Zealand derbies. The rugby is sensational, all skill and sinew, but it is also attritional.
Surprise hero of the match so far is Bryce Heem. He's really good, better even than the rarely sighted Hosea Gear, who's having a breakout game after a broken season.
The game is going down to the final whistle and suddenly I realise I want the Chiefs to win. This is no small moment for my conscious to grapple. Due to my Taranaki upbringing, or downbringing if you like, I've always sympathised with the Hurricanes. But then they started treating me really badly, hosting only really rubbish games in New Plymouth and passive-aggressively threatening the locals with no games next season unless there was a big crowd.
A friend of mine and former sports reporter Jim Kayes put it best when he said: "They said this was a team that represented Tolaga Bay to Island Bay, but these guys wouldn't know how to find Titahi Bay."
So when my son threw his lot in with the Chiefs a few years ago, so did I (although I was covering them at the time so had to retain a veneer of neutrality). Then Taranaki threw their milk-fat in with them too. Happy days. Sort of. But I've never really felt right about it. Until now.
The Chiefs are on attack in the final minutes, needing a try to win and inside my head I'm screaming, "GO THE CHIEFS!"
And they score. They seriously do. Thank you, Augustine Pulu. And Glen Jackson goes upstairs and it is confirmed to every right-thinking person in the country that the Chiefs have either scored or will be awarded a penalty try for blatant playing the ball on the ground when they are about to score... and instead TMO Vinnie Munro calls down, "Knock on, no try."
I mean, seriously. Munro might have made a couple of good calls earlier (although the sinbin required common sense, not letter of the law), but for heaven's sake, he's watching telly, he has to get every decision right. It's so freaking easy. Why do they even give these jobs to ex-refs who are missing the limelight. Give them to champion TV watchers - there're plenty of them out there.
It's an appalling, match-deciding, potentially season-altering decision. And it's so utterly, inexplicably wrong. And don't think Glen Jackson is getting off scot-free either. He and Chris Pollock are by far and away the best refs in the country, but it's time they acted like grown men with TMOs. Jackson was watching the big screen, he could have easily said, like thousands around the country were: "FFS Vinnie, have another look you silly p---k."
Hurricanes win 22-18. Cracking game. Unfortunate end.
(11) This may explain why rugby fans are the last humans on earth still drinking 4% draught beers.
(12) The saddest thing about the Hammett Years was the fact the Hurricanes felt the way to succeed was to lose their identity and become a Crusaders clone. The folly of trying to out-Crusade the Crusaders should have been obvious. On the other hand, the Chiefs went in a different direction, trying to be the best Chiefs team they could be. One had two titles in that mini-era, the other had some really sound personal accountability systems.
(13) How good is this game for skills and speed. Some teams should take note.easy to watch— David Campese (@Davidcampese11) May 16, 2015
(14) Yesterday (Sunday) at 4.34pm the Chiefs confirmed Allardice had ruptured the medial ligament in his left knee. Earlier Sanzar confirmed that Goodes had been cited, deeming it a red-card worthy offence.
(15) I have a soft spot for sportsmen named Reg. One of my favourite comics growing up was a strip called Billy's Boots, about a hopeless schoolboy footballer who inherited a pair of Charles 'Dead Shot' Keen's boots and was suddenly brilliant. On the frequent occasions Billy Dane lost or had his boots stolen, goalkeeper Reg Wood would come to the rescue of Groundwood School 1st XI, pulling off strings of amazing saves.
(16) Richie McCaw: Legacy written in blood
(too upset to record proper time)
Liam Messam: "A few 50/50s didn't go our way."
Actual translation: "WTF were the refs on?!"
GAME FOUR: #WARvSHA
- 240 minutes down - 240 to go
Greg Clark: "Will there be a Shark attack in Sydney?"
Me: "Will there be a muting of the TV?"
I'm returning from the kitchen with a bowl of Eta Spring and Onion chips (4 for $6 at Countdown), to see Adam Ashley-Cooper dive under the posts. I was not expecting that.
Soon it becomes obvious that Australian referee Rohan Hoffmann (17) has a different interpretation of how you may defend a driving maul than Jackson and Mike Fraser. With a World Cup around the corner, where the driving maul is shaping to be THE major attacking weapon of many teams, this is sheer lunacy. There are going to be tears.
Michael Hooper breaks free and does a Severo Koroduadua (18) . This momentarily puts a smile back on my face, until Hoffmann starts slaughtering the Sharks. It is so obviously lop-sided that even the ultimate home-town caller Phil Kearns is picking up on it.
For the first time this weekend, I really would rather be doing anything than watching rugby, a point rammed home when the unfortunate Mr Hoffmann stuffs up the halftime break by telling the Sharks time is up, then making them throw-in to a lineout that is... oh nevermind, he just blew it.
Michael Cheika steals the show with his halftime analysis: "The game's going like Golden Oldies."
The Waratahs are deemed to have carried the ball back into their 22m and kicked it out on the full. Israel Folau starts crying. Hoffmann goes to the TMO. The TMO called on for a carry back?! It's a 50/50 call but that's good enough for George Ayoub to go home town and reverse the decision.
Georgie Ayoub's not done yet. This time he rules it's a try to Taqele Naiyaravoro. The grounding is dubious enough, but what is most bewildering is the Waratahs gave away a clear and obvious infringement at the preceding lineout when Stephen Hoiles detached then reattached himself to a driving maul (I'm starting to really hate driving mauls (19)), but Hoffmann refused to listen to the Sharks complaints. Yet Folau cries about a carry back decision... you see where I'm going here.
I'm feeling irrationally angry on behalf of the Sharks, who I've never had much time for because they're cynical mob, who try to waste time whenever possible to give their forwards a rest.
The high farce continues. With the game still in the balance at 26-18, Sibusiso Sithole dashes down the left wing and appears to score in the corner. If he is out, which is almost impossible to tell, then it must be a penalty try because Kurtley Beale tries to shoulder charge him out. Not in Georgie Ayoub's world. Lineout Waratahs.
They go on to win 33-18.
"The Sharks were really stiffed by some poor decisions," says an almost apologetic Kearns.
(17) Officially known as Peter D'Rohan Hoffmann, a former Portuguese international.
(19) I know the rolling maul is one of those treasured 'technique' elements of rugby that separates it from other similar oval-ball codes, but the more you think about it, the weirder it is. Sure, in the schoolboy grades, it might be a useful tool to foster teamwork and an esprit de corps, but at senior level it's just another facet of the game to confuse the crowds and the ref. Would it really be long lamented if it was, like rucking and kicking out on the full from anywhere on the field, to quietly disappear?
GAME FIVE: #LIOvBRU
- 320 minutes down - 160 to go
Alarms never sound good at this hour, especially when you went to bed feeling a bit grumpy and it feels like somebody has glued your eyelids together, and especially especially when you can't really be bothered watching the Lions and Brumbies.
Still, I am intrigued to see what the reaction down Durban way has been to the Sharks' dudding.
The first thing I see on Twitter is cricketer Shaun Pollock weighing in with some cracking South African humour (20). His is easily the kindest reaction. Perhaps most extraordinarily, Sharks CEO John Smit appears to challenge Sanzar to do something about Hoffmann before they're forced to act themselves.
"Im sure Sanzar leadership is strong enough 2 do something before we need 2 enquire ,I hope! As u know I cant share my views here," he tweeted with really poor grammar. He must be joking. If he is lucky, Sanzar will launch a full and fair investigation and then warn Hoffmann and Ayoub about their behaviour, a la Michael Cheika and Jaco Peyper (21).
The cameras pan to the Lions coaching box and it suddenly occurs to me I cannot remember who he is. I play a game with myself that I have 30 seconds to remember without the aid of Google. I lose.
Meanwhile, the Lions' Ruan Combrinck slots a penalty from 60m. I am impressed and ever-so-slightly more awake.
The Brumbies start to look a bit awesome, aided by the worst lineout set move I've seen in a while, that sees Christian Lealiifano intercept and score.
Johan Ackermann. Of course! I'm an Idiot!
I'm wrestling with the inherent implausibility of Super Rugby. You don't find NRL or AFL fans up at quarter-to-four on the Sabbath watching footy, do you?
Nic White passes a ball directly into a Lions defender who has made a tackle and is clumsily attempting to extract himself from the breakdown. White wins the penalty. Oh rejoice in rugby's new age of cynicism.
Up in the box, Ackermann is extremely animated as he yells into his walkie-talkie. It's Nick Nolte as Lieutenant Colonel tall in The Thin Red Line (22).
We're into the last 20 minutes and it's nice having the South African call so we don't get the obligatory "thin air of the high veldt, lungs burning," clichés. Over there it's just air.
Henry Speight looks mighty mad about being subbed with five minutes to go. It makes me feel better about being up at twenty-to-five though.
The Brumbies win 30-20. It's a decent enough game, though the Lions were always quite a long way second-best. This result puts the Brumbies on top of the Australian Conference and means next week's Waratahs-Crusaders clash at Homebush will be massive. I can't bothered explain why now, but trust me, it's massive.
(20) Who is the Ref in this Sharks game, Rohan Doffman?— Shaun Pollock (@7polly7) May 16, 2015 I Google Doffman in case I am missing something but am, er, stumped.
(21) Sanzar issues warning after Cheika's referee approach
GAME SIX: #CHEvHIG
- 400 minutes down - 80 to go
Highlanders are in green. Cheetahs are in orange. That's not what I need at this hour.
I can already feel that this exercise is going to be tough on the Highlanders. It doesn't take much for them to feel like they're missing out on a bit of the national spotlight, what with Blues-obsessed 'national' media and all that, but they're going to have to do something pretty special to keep me motivated.
Ryan Tongia scores a wonderful try!
Who the hell is Ryan Tongia (23)?!
The Highlanders are scoring some sensational tries, one to Aaron Smith which is all class. At one point Malakai Fekitoa and Patrick Osborne are almost fighting to see who scores the bonus-point try.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske is leaving the Cheetahs at the end of the season . This fills me with no pleasure. I like the way the Cheetahs play. They have a bit of derring-do, belying Drotske's past as a grizzled front rower. It just seems like the Cheetahs are the bastard child of the South African conference. They always seem to get a miserable draw and are out of contention before the end of March.
The other reason I like Drotske is because he wears jeans and Aertex shirts in the coaches' box, which would have allowed him to fit right in with Massey and Lincoln University students in the early 90s.
One half to go.
A couple more cracking Highlanders tries are making the home stretch bearable. Hell they're a good side to watch. I must do it more often.
I'm half in the Land of Nod when the Cheetahs, bless them, score three tries in six minutes. There's eight minutes to go and they're just two converted tries to the bad. Surely not?
Surely not, all right. Ben Smith scores a dinky chip and chase try to make it even safer. I might be risking the wrath of the Otago Daily Times' sports desk, but I didn't think Smith was having one of his finer games until that point.
Ben Smith sealed the win for the Highlanders with a late try. Photo / Getty
It would be remiss not to mention Lima Sopoaga. If all the candidates were fully fit, you would assume that at best Sopoaga is fifth-choice All Black first five-eighth (24). That being the case, you could mount an argument that there is no better fifth-in-line to any international rugby position in the world today.
(23) Touch wood backs deliver
(24) Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade would be ranked ahead of Sopoaga and, until he announced his departure to Bayonne, some Cantabs would have Tom Taylor ahead of him too.
SUNDAY 10.46pm - 480 minutes down
Do I feel more engaged with the national sport again? Yes, sort of, though as much as I'll remember the Highlanders brilliance and the pulsating Hurricanes win, I'll remember officiating blunders and general confusion around the driving maul.
I really do feel like South African teams get shafted when they come to Australasia. Perhaps it's some sort of cosmic karma for the refereeing atrocities touring teams put up with over there during the Apartheid years, but you can understand why they feel like upping sticks sometimes and playing a competition in their own time zone.
There were two games over the weekend that were as much decided by the men in the middle and in the TMO booths as they were by the blokes with numbers on their backs. That's not good enough. There's a big tournament in England and Wales coming up soon, one that is expected to be close-fought and decided by penalties. Can you really say you're confident that right will be done?
From these eyes, Stuart Berry was the best referee this weekend, closely followed by Andrew Lees and Jaco Peyper - that's a sentence I never thought I'd write.
Despite my misgivings about the ending, the Hurricanes-Chiefs was the best match, with the Reds rout of the Rebels and Highlanders-Cheetahs match coming in equal second. The Brumbies win over the Lions was enough for fourth, with the Blues fortitude not enough to sway me from thinking Friday night was a fairly ordinary affair.
Which leaves the Waratahs win over the Sharks. At last, words fail me...