It is rare indeed, but the Chiefs' final pool match against the Hurricanes managed to encompass all that is good about rugby while also bringing to attention every battle the game is currently fighting to keep the next generation interested in playing.

In 80 absorbing minutes, the game flowed from end to end – the speed, bravery, athleticism and commitment of the athletes prominent throughout.

There was smart risk taking, individual brilliance, collective resilience and a depth of character shown by both teams – providing the perfect example of how the values of sport are also, really, the values of life.

When the final whistle blew, most likely everyone watching felt a deep sense of having had value for money with their excitement about the return knock-out match this weekend, heightened.


That was the good. Rugby like that knocks league out the park. Rugby like that sits at the top of the football codes for viewer experience.

But as much as it was brilliant, so too was it worrying for the longer term future of the game.

The greatest impediment to rugby thriving and becoming a mass global participation sport is the rising fear around the impact and extent of concussion.

Chiefs winger Toni Pulu in action. Photo / Photosport
Chiefs winger Toni Pulu in action. Photo / Photosport

Hamilton was a horror show in that regard. There were four major head collisions in the second half that were truly difficult to watch.

The first was to Luke Jacobson when he tried to tackle Sam Lousi and took the big lock's knee straight to the head.

As he finally managed to get off with blood streaming down the side of his head, Hurricanes reserve halfback Finlay Christie was the victim of a horrible accidental head clash with one of his own teammates.

As he lay prostrate on the field, being attended to, Chiefs replacement first-five Tiaan Falcon took the ball to the line, was legitimately tackled and sent into the path of another unwitting Hurricanes player.

Falcon's head was accidentally collected by Chris Eves' head and while the former came off the worst – with blood pouring out his mouth – it would have hurt the Hurricanes man too, who would have been just as shocked and unprepared for the collision.


And this is the trouble rugby faces as it tries to promote itself to a mass audience. The game at the elite level has become so fast, so powerful, so explosive that the intensity of matches is both its greatest selling point and blockage to encouraging a new generation of players.

It was unusual that there were three accidental head collisions in such quick succession, but it is not unusual that there are so many unintentional head collisions in a game.

It's hard to convince people they should play a sport where there appears to be an inevitability that their head will receive some kind of major trauma almost regardless.

Hurricanes centre Wes Goosen gets medical attention after a tackle from Chiefs second five Johnny Fa'auli. Photo / Photosport
Hurricanes centre Wes Goosen gets medical attention after a tackle from Chiefs second five Johnny Fa'auli. Photo / Photosport

And then, of course, there was the fourth incident which was not accidental. Johnny Fa'auli's head high shoulder charge on Wes Goosen was easily the worst tackle committed by a New Zealander in Super Rugby this year.

It was a prime example of poor technique made all the worse by the fact there was intent.

It was precisely the sort of tackle World Rugby is desperate to eliminate from the game and not quite managing to do so.

The impact on Goosen was horrendous and it wouldn't be a surprise to learn in the years to come that hundreds if not thousands of potential young rugby players became basketballers, netballers and rowers about one minute after they saw it.

Protecting the head is a war rugby has to win and there are more reasons to believe they aren't than they are.

Perhaps the last problem on view in Hamilton has an impact on all the other issues which is that pitting New Zealand teams so often against each other is simply not sustainable.

The intensity of these games is too much to be endured as regularly as it is. The Chiefs and Hurricanes have to play each other again this week, which will be their respective ninth local derby and the winners may well have to play a 10th.

It has to change and yet while there is unanimous agreement on that from the players – and not just in New Zealand either – the various executives of all the Sanzaar countries continue to butt heads and make no progress about a future pathway for the competition.