ANY GIVEN MONDAY
Another thread holding together the delicate fabric of our national sport was severed this weekend, with the passing of Sir Brian Lochore.
Lochore put the union into rugby union, so strong were his links with the game.
His playing, coaching and selecting resume was peerless, yet it was the things he stood for more than the things he did that seem more important now.
And they're more important because they're disappearing in ways that are both tragically tangible and hard to define.
Lochore was the captain of 1967 All Blacks team that travelled to Great Britain, France and Canada. It was, by any standards, a great side. When you scan the personnel you could make a case it was the greatest of all, but it's one of those bar-room debates that can never be won or lost.
They returned home unbeaten, having won 16 of 17 matches. They would likely have been the first Grand Slam winners but were prevented from travelling to Ireland due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
The only blemish was a 3-3 draw with East Wales in their penultimate match, though they responded with a win against the powerful Barbarians (in those days essentially a Lions side) before returning home.
The team contained names that remain instantly recognisable to rugby fans. Several of them are dead, many taken before their time.
Lochore, Sir Colin Meads, Fergie McCormick, Tony Steel, Mac Herewini, Ken Gray, Kel Tremain, Bruce McLeod, Graham Williams, Alister Hopkinson, Jack Hazlett and Wayne Cottrell have all died. Of that number only Meads reached 80, four never made it out of their 50s.
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It's a toll that stands in contrast to the image we have of them as robust, near-indestructible representatives of a country that was becoming increasingly confident of its place in the world. It is an image rooted in mythology rather than reality but it does point to the idea that we should have done a better job of immortalising these old heroes.
These were the last of the great black-and-white All Blacks. They played before live television changed the sport. They played long before money revolutionised it.
Many were men of the land and none represented that ideal more than Lochore. He was a farmer; he was a one-team man back when provincial rugby meant something much more than a chance to win a Super Rugby contract.
Provincial rugby was an act of community as much as it was a contest. You could watch an All Black play and then join them in conversation over jugs of stale beer in smoke-filled clubrooms that had the unmistakable fragrance of testosterone and eau de mince.
That has all but disappeared now.
We have All Blacks still who grow up on farms and might one day return to them, but they're not moving stock and then driving an hour each way to practice. Nor should they; professional rugby doesn't work like that.
Rugby players are famous now like they were famous in Lochore's day.
The difference is, that back when Lochore and his kind were king, you could be famous and one of us at the same time.
If this sounds like a trip through a rose-tinted time tunnel, rest assured there are characteristics of modern rugby that are far more appealing than they were in the past.
Rugby in the 60s and 70s was a bastion for cultural conservatism, for chauvinism and, if continued contact with apartheid South Africa was an indication, it was at the very least uncomfortably positioned on race.
But it also made a hugely positive contribution to the sometimes nebulous idea of community, particularly in rural areas.
I never knew the man beyond the occasional, fleeting encounter but it always seemed that Lochore embodied the best parts of rugby.
With his death, it feels like we're losing more than just another legend of the winter, but a large chunk of rugby's sense of place.
If Lochore was easy to like, Australia's Steve Smith is, well, not.
Like Brussels sprouts, the prolific right-hander could still end up being an acquired taste.
His journey from pariah to batting messiah was a year in conception but just four days in execution.
The first Ashes test of any series is always special for cricket fans, even neutrals, but Smith has managed to turn this one at Edgbaston into a personal masterpiece.
It is not as redemptive as many in the press and punditry are making out, however.
There were never any questions about Smith's ability to bat. His numbers were gaudy long before this test, his idiosyncrasies at the crease by turns maddening and endearing.
Smith exists in a bubble at the crease, totally in control of those mannerisms and tics that outwardly appear to be manic and chaotic. He's a remarkable player with the rare gift of being able to play multiple shots to the same ball, depending on where the fielders are.
It's like he took the pages of a coaching manual, cut up all the pictures then reassembled them in the wrong places.
The issue with Smith has never been about brilliance, it's about behaviour. The same bubble that allows him to bat without self-consciousness also incubated him from the worst excesses of his team's conduct.
His tears over Sandpapergate might have been real but it remains extraordinary that it took an act so debased for Smith and Australian cricket as a whole to wake up to itself.
As captain, Smith either encouraged or turned a blind eye to Australia's self-proclaimed headbutting of the line you couldn't cross, whatever that meant (and it really only ever meant that they decided what the line was).
Smith was a brilliant batsman pre-tears and in a few short days, he's proved he's lost none of his skills or hunger for runs.
Time will tell if he's gained what he needed most: a dose of humility.
THE MONDAY LONG READ ...
This is an important peep behind the curtain of mental health, and how high-performance sport can both help and hinder . From the Washington Post.