Two players who made the All Blacks - after being ignored by selectors in New Zealand secondary schools rugby and rugby academies - are proof players can make the top of world rugby without the now-common professional pathways.
If you're puzzled about the fuss over televised First XV rugby – renewed amid plans to televise other school sports – look no further than Luke Romano and Jack Goodhue.
Both are examples of players making the All Blacks after being ignored by selectors in New Zealand secondary schools rugby and rugby academies. They didn't come through the "pathways" many promising young players travel down on their way to professional careers.
We can't slag off the academy system too much – it does and will produce players of talent and ability. But we don't know how many they miss; the players who play for fun but do not develop real talent until later in life; the ones who, if they miss out in the manicured streaming at a young age, are in danger of giving up and being lost to the sport forever.
Like Romano and Goodhue. Romano, the All Black lock with 31 tests for the All Blacks and a World Cup winners medal, trained as a builder's apprentice (and qualified) and played "club footy" in the weekends - and never went near a rep team.
He wasn't a natural athlete, nor a leading lineout exponent. But he had bulk, speed, carried the ball well, scrummaged well, attacked the breakdown and tackled hard. When he first came on the scene, Romano gave an interview with Liam Napier that showed he was proud he'd held down a job before his rugby career took off.
"The age of the professional rugby player is getting lower and lower," Romano said. "A lot of guys come out of school and one or two years out they are in a professional team. Most guys get plucked out of school and brought into the academies. They don't know what it's like to work until they leave the professional arena, and that could be after 10 years."
Goodhue, raised in Northland, went to Mt Albert Grammar but his ambitions were limited to, one day, playing for Northland. He was overlooked for secondary school honours ("I didn't make the secondary schools [representative team] or even the B team") and confined his hopes to playing Mitre 10 rugby. He is now 13 tests into being an All Black and a highly regarded one at that.
They are the type of late-developing players most at risk from rugby's "channels".
That's the rugby side of things – what about the societal side? As Dylan Cleaver has shown in his series on the televising of other school sports this week, the drift of good players from lesser schools to those with strong sporting focus means the rich get richer and the strong get, well, you know…
Televising schools rugby is a big part of that and part of the reason I have generally boycotted it. The "glamourisation" of schools rugby has hit club rugby hard, with many "pathway" players basically bypassing clubs and heading straight into professional careers.
And, as we all, know, if the grassroots wither, you end up with a desert.
What some academy players miss is simple: life. In Phil Gifford's story yesterday, former All Blacks coach (and former headmaster) Sir Graham Henry made it clear that the top players in his All Blacks teams were the ones "who had a lot of other things going on in their lives".
We never hear about those who aim at a professional career, don't make it and perhaps slide into all sorts of difficulty. But we see them on the schools rugby broadcast, too many candidates for not enough professional rugby careers, exposed at a fearfully young age and placed on a pedestal they really do not need to be on.
Add to that the evils of social media, the lack of ability 16- and 17-year-olds have to handle a degree of fame, criticism and elitism and you worry about another Henry and Sir Steve Hansen piece of wisdom: Better people make better All Blacks.
I spent some time in the Auckland Grammar First XV, having made my way to the school through an academic scholarship from out-of-zone South Auckland origins. Yes, it was fun – but it was deadly serious too; the pressure was on, even without social media, cyber bullying and television.
From there, most school players in those amateur days went into club rugby, alongside a job and mostly for fun but with some faint hopes of representative achievement. You cut your teeth, you learned the trade and developed as a person. The late bloomers blossomed while some leading lights at school faded in wattage.
You weren't shunted into a role for which you were not prepared – and your career didn't take precedence over the health of the game; it generally didn't encourage the rich to get richer.
Those who made it into the All Blacks generally did so through that kind of apprenticeship and hard work. It was elite, yes, but a different kind of elitism from TV broadcasts and a school life which offers glamour, but can also be false promise.