Seven talking points from the second round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
OKAY, TIME TO GET REFS AND PLAYERS ON THE SAME PAGE
There were 23 penalties in Hamilton, 26 in Wellington. There were moments in the first half in Wellington when the eternal rugby gag line, "Nice game ref, it's a pity you're missing it" felt fit for purpose again.
We know that the aim this year is to clean up the breakdown, which had descended to a point where the only law seemed to be the law of the jungle. But rugby right now in this country had been presented with a way to win hearts and minds it has never had before, and endless whistle is killing that chance.
Somehow players and referees have to get in sync. And if that means flying refs all over the country to spend this week being at all five teams' training sessions, blowing a whistle every time there's a failure of breakdown technique, then I'd say hand out the air tickets now.
YES, THAT WAS THE BLUES WE WERE WATCHING
The Mark Telea try that rounded out the impressive 24-12 win for the Blues over the Chiefs in Hamilton was a joy to see, but the most impressive passage of play for me involved all of the first 10 minutes of the second half.
The Blues were just ahead, 10-9, but they'd lost Dalton Papalii to the bin on the stroke of halftime, and the big home crowd of 23,874 sensed a breakthrough. The old Blues might have crumbled.
This is what the new Blues did in the next 10 minutes: They didn't concede a single penalty. They won two lineouts on their own throw, and stole one on a Chiefs' throw. They played with cool precision for territory. The only real mistake they made was when TJ Faiane, a powerhouse in everything else he did, lost the slippery ball in a tackle. This is a very different group, with a very different attitude.
HOW CAN THEY NOT FOLLOW HIM?
It's not as if Patrick Tuipulotu hasn't played some very good rugby before. After all he was an All Black at 21 back in 2014, but he's never played better than he is now.
Right now the Blues' captain is the complete lock, whether winning ball in the lineout, working in general play as if his life depended on being at the next breakdown, or making Jerome Kaino-like head-on tackles. All Tuipulotu really needs to say to lead his forwards is, "See what I'm doing? Do the same."
IT MUST HELP THE BLUES HAVING A COACH WHO FULLY REALISES IT'S 2020, AND THE WORLD HAS CHANGED
Diehards may have flinched, but how refreshing and revealing was it to hear Leon MacDonald, when asked by Sky's Kirstie Stanway about the emergence of blond and pink hair in the Blues team, say, "We have a saying about being your real self. Just bring yourself to the team and we love you. If you're a bit quirky that's cool. If you want to have a different hair colour that's good as well. You can turn up and be yourself and not try to be something you're not."
DAMN THEY ARE AS GOOD AS WE REMEMBERED
As starry eyed as it's been reasonable to be about the Blues, keep in mind the giants of the game weren't flattered at all by the 39-25 win over the Hurricanes in Wellington. It was only penalties that kept the Canes in the match, and a five tries to one margin to the Crusaders tells its own story.
And if the Sevu Reece try in the first minute was pure gold, David Havili's try in the 75th minute was the Hope diamond. Havili had just bumped off Ngani Laumape when, with timing that made a Swiss watch look erratic, he hit nothing but thin air off a Mitch Drummond pass to leave two defenders totally bemused. At 25 Havili must surely get a chance to extend the one season he had in the All Blacks back in 2017.
ANTHONY JOSHUA AND TYSON FURY? NAH, THIS IS THE BIGGEST SHOWDOWN
Saturday, 11 July, 7.05pm. Mark the day, and don't miss what already is sure to be the game of the tournament to date. That's when the Blues will be in Christchurch to play the Crusaders.
And if that's, hopefully, a great occasion, then take a shoehorn and prise yourself into what will be a packed Eden Park on Sunday, 16 August, at 3.35pm for the last game of Super Rugby Aotearoa, when the Crusaders come to Auckland. I'd happily wager it'll decide the competition.
LET THE KIDS RUN FREE
After the delights of seeing fans, mostly kids, having contact on the field with players after the first weekend of Super Rugby, it was deeply disappointing to see that in Hamilton and Wellington that wasn't allowed. On Friday a text arrived at Newstalk ZB that summed up exactly why I believe rugby officials are getting it wrong if they ban spectators from the paddock.
This is what it said: "My boy is 16. Right up until two years ago he played rugby. Not being biased... but he is really good. At 14, out of nowhere, he switched to basketball. It broke my heart. He hadn't picked up a rugby ball since. Until last Sunday. We went to Eden Park, and after the game he ran onto the field with his rugby ball and managed to get a few autographs. A couple of the Blues even threw the ball around with him. This reignited his passion for rugby, and he wants to switch back. Rugby needs to do everything possible to keep our kids love for the game alive, or they will switch to other sports."