Five talking points from Super Rugby Transtasman.
Was that just a late night fever dream?
The 40-34 victory for the Reds over the Chiefs was not only a breakthrough for Australian teams but also a game so hectic and bizarre it was as if Lewis Carroll had written Alice In Wonderland on drugs. (In passing, contrary to every urban myth, Carroll was apparently not on opium or alcohol when he wrote every stoner's favourite fairytale).
If Damian McKenzie's too casual, no-arms tackle had been on almost anyone except the smallest man in the Reds, their halfback Tate McDermott, his shoulder would probably have landed in a rib cage. Because McDermott is only 2.5cm (one inch) taller than McKenzie there's no question McKenzie made contact with McDermott's head.
The weirdness had begun when the Reds, whipped last week by the Crusaders, couldn't go wrong in the first half, especially after the McKenzie dismissal. A kid from Brisbane called Isaac Henry was running in tries like a test match veteran, and at halftime the surreal scoreboard read Reds 33, Chiefs 8.
When restored to 15 players thanks to the new rule that allowed McKenzie to be replaced after 20 minutes, the Chiefs went just as crazy in the second half. Every man from the Tron played like a hero, but one stood out, even in such exalted company. If there's a braver, more effective 37-year-old playing professional rugby anywhere in the world than Liam Messam, I'd love to see him.
A try that deserved, and got, the best quote of the weekend
In the Blues' 38-10 despatching of the Brumbies at Eden Park, a soporific first half was set alight by an astonishing try right on halftime by halfback Finlay Christie.
In the 38th minute, 35 metres from the line, Rieko Ioane passed Christie the ball. He swerved, he shimmied, he ducked, he twisted, and when he dived over to score five Brumbies defenders were strewn behind him.
Christie, born in Peebles in Scotland, inherits his shock of red hair from his mother Liz, who has described the colour as "shimmering copper." Fortunately Blues captain Tom Robinson has shimmering locks too, which gave him the licence to say that Christie's brilliant run to score, was "like a ginger running from the sun, looking for some shade."
If he can hold it together he could be the goods
The Crusaders, as anyone who hasn't been trapped on an Arctic ice floe for the last five years would have expected, didn't need the perfect game to dispose of the Waratahs 54-28 in Wollongong.
The Tahs have become the poster boys for incompetence in recent years. But one player who didn't get the message that he should in awe of the Crusaders was midfielder Izaia Perese.
Perese, still only 23, has had, to put it mildly, a rocky career since he was a schoolboy rugby star in Brisbane. A league career at the Broncos came to an end when he was found guilty of supplying illegal drugs 15 months ago. A rugby lifeline in Bayonne in France fizzled out, and his contract at the Waratahs has the feel of a last chance in professional sport.
At just 94kg Parese is a small man by modern midfield standards. Ngani Laumape, for example, is 103kg. But what Parese might lack in bulk he makes up for with an intensity that's almost scary. He attacks the line with what could fairly be called venomous intent. If Dave Rennie selects Perese he'll be the most dangerous player in a talented Wallaby backline.
Are the Force the pinot noir of rugby?
Airline travel, the experts say, is the worst thing for some red wines, pinot noir in particular.
At home in Perth the Force have looked pretty good, putting up staunch resistance to first the Chiefs and then the Highlanders. So it was a surprise to see the Force rolled so completely, 43-6 in Napier by the Hurricanes.
The most concerning issue for the men from Perth? Their best player in Napier was Jeremy Thrush. Thrush is still a hard, honest worker but he's also a 36-year-old who played his first Super Rugby game 15 years ago.
Strange days indeed
The last game of the round, where the Highlanders beat the Rebels 42-27, but crucially missed out on a bonus point, was a suitably odd coda to a wacky weekend.
Thanks to Covid-19 we had a team from Melbourne playing a team from Dunedin in front of a tiny crowd in Sydney, at Leichhardt Oval, usually home to the West Tigers league team. The game felt about as disjointed as the process that saw it moved from Queenstown, although there was one bright point of light. Yet again Aaron Smith played brilliantly.