Covid-19 has given rugby in New Zealand a chance, if there's the will and the nerve, to reset the whole experience for the fans.
As a rugby tragic since primary school, here's my wish list for a new look game when we're allowed back into grounds and stadiums.
1. Keep playing the big matches in daylight
To quote that great philosopher, Anchorman Ron Burgundy, why wait for the middle of a cold dark night? Super Rugby Aotearoa will have matches kicking off at 3.05 pm and 5.05 pm this year, and they should keep on giving us the chance to see games next year with at least the possibility of feeling sunlight on our backs.
Let's not hear that crap about how the games have to be at night because there's no television audience for them in the afternoon. The Six Nations competition gets the most viewers for non-World Cup matches in the world, and their games are all played in the daytime.
Ask yourself. Would you rather watch footy when there's a better chance the ball will be dry, and the ground firmer? And, you can take little kids to a day game.
2. Have All Blacks turn out twice a year for their clubs
Yes, we know that the days of All Blacks playing a whole club season have gone the way of Bri-nylon sports shirts and walk socks. And, yes, a couple of times a year would be tokenism. But so what?
Having a superstar there even once a season is like plugging a rugby club into the national grid. In 2014 when Dan Carter made a comeback from injury by playing for Southbridge, 50km out of Christchurch, they had 2000 people at the ground.
When Sonny Bill Williams made his start in New Zealand rugby in 2010 it was for the Belfast club, on the north side of Christchurch. "I don't think there's a kid at Belfast who hasn't got an autograph, or had a photo taken with Sonny," club stalwart and former All Black Billy Bush told me at the time. "Actually, I don't think any adults missed out either."
There'll be juggling to be done with contracts. But if the rest weekends from Super Rugby currently demanded in All Black contracts became club weekends, the benefit to the game would be huge, and the physical demands on the players would be, comparatively, minute.
3. Show club rugby, not First XV rugby, on television
It sometimes takes a year, a former Super Rugby coach said last year, to decompress the self-esteem of the teenage stars created by so many First XV games being shown on Sky. "The buggers arrive," he said, "with a bloody showreel. They think they've made it because they've been on tv."
At one stroke the issue of First XV players thinking they'll be legends when they start playing with adults will be tamped down, and club games will take on mana from the professional, slick coverage they'd get from Sky's expertise.
4. Get the players out in the community
The Crusaders have been onto this for years, and it's true getting out to schools and clubs is way harder in a bigger city like Auckland, but north of the Harbour bridge, the Breakers helped build a rock-solid basketball fanbase by ensuring that most kids in the area had seen a Tom Abercrombie or a Mika Vukona visiting the schoolyard at some stage.
5. Dig out some free tickets
The most joyful rugby experience in Auckland in the last decade was the final of the 2018 Mitre 10 Cup, when there was free admittance to Eden Park.
Of course the gates can't be flung open every afternoon as they were that Saturday. But while a handful of sales might be lost if player visits to schools included dishing out a bunch of tickets, the goodwill would be worth a lot more.
6. Let the kids on the field
At some point in the first decade of the 21st century, it was decided that letting kids, or agile enough adults, onto the field at the end of the game was verboten.
I've heard two pathetic excuses for why that is. One was the kids might damage the pitch. Really? Several hundred children in flat-soled shoes will ruin a surface that's just had 30 men who average around 100kg in boots with metal studs running around on it for 80 minutes?
The other explanation was just as feeble. "It's health and safety regulations. We'd be in the crap if anyone got hurt." Because of course hospital wards used to be full of kids who had been injured from having close contact with players. Wait a minute. Let me just check. I'm sorry, let's rewind that. In this universe no kid anywhere, at any time, at any game, was ever hurt.
7. Let's do this one straight away: Have the refs get brutal about offside lines
World rugby bosses seem happy with the stultifying defensives that are turning too many rugby games into 1960s league, with breakdowns the equivalent of unlimited play the balls. In the Aotearoa competition, they're our refs, so we can tell them to penalise, bin, and generally monster players into staying on side and allowing the game to breathe again.
The demise of Alan Jones as the $4 million a year king of breakfast radio in Sydney, brought down by advertisers finally drawing the line at such misogynistic rants as suggesting the father of Australian prime minister Julia Gillard had "died of shame" and that Jacinda Ardern needed a sock shoved down her throat, was a reminder of the days when he was the coach of the Wallabies.
In my personally selected rugby hall of shame, he is second only to the boorish South African rugby chief Louis Luyt as the most unlikeable personality I've ever encountered in the sport. (When Luyt died in 2013 one of South Africa's most well-respected historians, Jonathan Hyslop, a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in the United States, stripped away any romanticism of Luyt as a "larger than life character" or "boisterous maverick." Hyslop wrote: "Being nice about scumbags is a distinctive South African failing. There's nothing wrong with speaking ill of the dead if they deserve it. And Luyt certainly does.")
I have several Alan Jones memories, but the most vivid concerns a bitter, completely unprovoked and undeserved rant against a journalistic colleague in Dunedin in 1986.
The Wallabies, it's true, were ripped off in that second test at Carisbrook, losing 13-12, when, in the days before television match officials, a try television coverage clearly showed had been scored by Steve Tuynman was disallowed.
At the press conference Jones laid into an Otago Daily Times writer, Alistair McMurran, offended by a preview in that morning's paper, which had actually lauded the attacking brilliance of the Wallaby backs, suggesting, as praise, there was an almost "arrogant ease" with how they worked their moves.
Alistair, who died in 2017, was as humble, shy, and gentle a person who ever sat at a keyboard. Jones, to whom none of those adjectives would apply, savaged him. "Who the HELL do you think you are?" snarled Jones. "How DARE you attack the most decent group of young men it's ever been my privilege to know. You know NOTHING about these men, and you have the gall to call them arrogant."
We didn't know until some years later that straight after the game, shortly before his broadside at Alistair, Jones had verbally shredded his fullback of the day, a pre-fame David Campese, in terms as flamboyant as the McMurran meltdown.
It was, some Wallabies have since suggested, the day Jones, whose international coaching career had started so well with a Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland in 1984, started to lose the Australian changing room. Having seen at close range in '86 how Jones reacted to stress, no wonder they'd had enough of him by 1987.