Eight talking points from the weekend with the biggest game yet in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
1. THAT'S WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE TOO
"We approached it like a test match," said Crusaders captain, Codie Taylor, and that's exactly how the 26-15 win for the Crusaders over the Blues in front of a sellout Christchurch crowd on Saturday night played out.
There was test match intensity all over the park, but especially in the forwards. Pencil in Patrick Tuipulotu and Sam Whitelock for the All Blacks middle row right now. Tuipulotu's defence was again like Jack Reacher in a rugby jersey. And don't write off Akira Ioane, who's lifted his game back to the levels that caught the national selectors' eyes back in 2017.
2. A THRILLER, THAT DIDN'T REALLY NEED TO ALSO BE A CHILLER
Big games often fall flat, but rugby's woe is me chorus - pretty active as teams and referees struggled to align their thinking in the early rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa - are stretching credulity if they find too much wrong with Saturday's epic match.
As someone who doesn't think decent rugby stopped when they allowed coloured boots I will offer one thought the doomsayers and moaners might like. When Richie Mo'unga kicked off at 7.05pm the temperature was four degrees. If it had been a 3.35pm kick-off the game would have started in sunny 12 degree conditions. Most things in rugby now are not better or worse, just different. But anyone who says night rugby is an improvement on playing in the afternoon is talking nonsense.
3. ALL HAIL A HERO CALLED RICHIE IN CHRISTCHURCH
Great players can turn a game in a moment, and Richie Mo'unga's decision to back himself with basically a grubber kick-off when his team was down 15-9 after 54 minutes was not only daring and intuitive but also amazingly effective.
You could almost feel the gears changing in the match, and Mo'unga slammed the accelerator down six minutes later when, inside the Blues' 22 he feinted to pass, which drew Blues wing Mark Telea onto David Havili, leaving a tiny space clear between defenders Telea and Ofa Tuungafasi, through which Mo'unga speared a perfect pass to George Bridge. Bridge opened up the Blues' line, and when he passed to Mitch Drummond, the halfback could almost stroll over. It was a perfect flourish that Mo'unga would also send Will Jordan away for the match-clinching try four minutes from fulltime.
4. BRIDGE TICKS EVERY BOX
There were world-class wings to burn, but the one who staked the major claim was Crusader George Bridge, a player who is running, leaping, catching, ferocious tackling proof that you don't have to be a schoolboy star to be an All Black.
The man from Poverty Bay, who once spent sweaty night shifts lugging furniture for a living when he moved to Christchurch as a 17-year-old, has grown into the complete wing. His chase to catch Telea when a try looked on for the Blues 13th minute was a prime example of how much blistering pace Bridge has to go with his skills and grit.
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5. NO, THIS IS NOT THE END OF IT FOR THE BLUES
Well-meaning platitudes about how well they played, while true, won't make the Blues feel any better, so let's stick with the cold, hard numbers around their loss to the Crusaders. It's not the end of the road for their title hopes.
The Blues did themselves one big favour at Orangetheory Stadium. They denied the Crusaders a bonus-point win, which means that while the Crusaders now enjoy a six-point lead over the Blues, the rematch at Eden Park on August 16 still has the potential to be a competition decider.
It won't be easy, but now, if the Blues can pick up one more bonus-point win against the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders than the Crusaders can against the same teams, then a bonus-point win at Eden Park could win the title. Two more bonus-point victories than the Crusaders in the lead-up to August 16, and whoever wins at Eden Park (without a bonus point) takes the title.
6. YOU NEVER CAN TELL
At first glance Crusader centre Braydon Ennor and Wallaby legend, Stephen Larkham don't have much in common.
But when Ennor flung himself towards the conversion attempt by Otere Black, which would have put the Blues ahead 17-9, the former St Kentigern College star was following in the illustrious bootprints of Larkham.
In 1998 in Sydney the All Blacks, struggling after a string of four test losses, roared out to an 11-0 lead over the Wallabies at halftime. It would have been 13-0, but early in the game Larkham, whose sleepy demeanour led to his team nickname Bernie, after the corpse in "Weekend At Bernie's", was a fierce competitor, so when Andrew Mehrtens placed the ball a metre or so inside the 22 to convert a Christian Cullen try, Larkham, like Ennor, sprinted out and was able to slap the kick down.
Otere Black's a smart player, and in the future, given a shot at a conversion almost straight in front, it's unlikely he'll take the ball a little closer to the goalline just to make the kick easier. And Ennor? He may never charge another conversion down, but bet good money he'll never stop trying.
7. AND THAT WAS HOW THE GAME ENDED, WITH A WHIMPER AND A FALCON
It was a canny, but still disappointing move, for the Highlanders to take a penalty at the last gasp on Sunday in Wellington, to take one bonus point from their 17-11 loss to the Hurricanes.
There were a couple of cheeky halfback tries from Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara, but the most abiding memory from a lacklustre game was the resounding falcon received by Hurricane Jordie Barrett as Kobus Van Wyk tried to send his fullback over in the corner. Call me childish by all means, but the sight of a football bouncing off a player's face will always be amusing.
8. NOT EVEN REMOTELY LIKE CAIN AND ABEL
A grace moment at the end of the game in Christchurch was seeing the obvious warmth between the twin Goodhue brothers, Crusader midfielder Jack and Blues lock Josh, as they chatted on the field.
Jack is not a small man, but Josh is 1.99m tall, and he's always been big. In 2018 Jack told me how he and Josh, after growing up in Kawakawa, spent the last four years of high school as boarders at Mt Albert Grammar. Jack said the environment for boarders at MAGS was actually healthy and decent, but he did have insurance against bullying. "Josh was about 6ft 6in when he was 12 years old. So nobody was going to mess with him. I'd like to think they might have been scared of me as well, but I don't think that was the case."