Test rugby is back at last and the All Blacks are on the brink of what will be, Covid permitting, a long and potentially revealing season during which their stated aim is to get their No1 position back after an unconvincing 2020.
Good times, right? Well, kind of. It should be a time of great expectation and anticipation for rugby supporters throughout the nation and yet, speaking from purely a personal point of view, there is more a feeling of foreboding at what is going to happen at Mt Smart Stadium between the All Blacks and Tonga on Saturday.
Because there is likely to be a point during the test, rightly built as a celebration of Pasifika in partnership with New Zealand on a day when the NZ Maori play Manu Samoa on the same pitch, when the "festival" atmosphere expected by head coach Ian Foster, goes, well, a little flat to say the least.
Tonga, an under-resourced rugby nation as it is, are fielding 13 players making their test debut due to the not unexpected difficulties of getting their overseas-based players to New Zealand for a one-off test in a global pandemic. That's 13 out of the match-day squad of 23. There are nine uncapped players in the starting 15. Some of them have answered the call straight from club rugby, including lock Don Lolo, who plays for Taieri in the Dunedin club competition.
They will be aware that they are up against a fully professional squad of players who are fresh off back-to-back Super Rugby seasons, players among the best in the world determined to make good on Foster's vision to regain a world ranking they haven't held since 2019.
Without wishing to be cruel, Tonga haven't a chance of victory and they will know it. And that's not only tough on them but also tough on the All Blacks who are in a no-win situation of having to take the pitch against a mainly amateur line-up realising their potential errors may be judged more harshly by the public as result.
There are shades here of a test in a very different time and place - the sun-baked and relatively carefree days of the All Blacks' early adventures at the 2007 World Cup in France - before it all came to an ignominious and tear-streaked end against the French in Cardiff in the quarter-final.
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Back then, World Rugby officials are said to have had a quiet word. Take it easy against Romania in the pool game, was the gist of the unofficial message to Sir Graham Henry's team. And take it easy in the scrums in particular. For safety reasons.
As expected, the All Blacks were utterly untroubled in beating the Romanians 85-8 and there may be a similar gentleman's agreement against the Ikale Tahi, if not necessarily for safety reasons, then for what marching the red and white scrum backwards in the hunt for penalties, which the All Blacks would strive to do against a Tier One nation, would achieve in the context of the match and All Blacks' preparations for the tougher tests to come.
And if there isn't then there should be because while the All Blacks pack will no doubt have the ability to be extremely destructive in the scrum and driving maul in particular, there is no way the backline will get that sort of front-foot service against Australia or South Africa or even Argentina in the Rugby Championship which kicks off next month.
It's potentially a difficult dynamic for the All Blacks, who will be wary about offending Tonga or their supporters via any perceived condescension, but something may have to give in the second half if the score is getting out of hand as the predicted differences in fitness and class take their toll.
Before the All Blacks departed for the 2019 World Cup they played Tonga in Hamilton, winning 92-7. One of the loudest cheers of the afternoon came not for George Bridge's hat-trick try, or even his fourth five-pointer, but for a try in the 76th minute for Tonga's skipper Siale Piutau.
It was a genuinely feel-good moment, but the All Blacks deliberately played the final 15 minutes with 14 men after Ryan Crotty, on limited minutes after injury, left the field and wasn't replaced.
I wonder if something similar is on the cards.