Six rugby talking points from the weekend and the return of an old friend.
How much damage does a decision like this do to recruiting young players for rugby?
The biggest game of the season to date also featured the most appalling-looking piece of foul play, which referee Paul Williams and his officials decided didn't even deserve a yellow card.
In the 67th minute, after Sevu Reece had foolishly grabbed Patrick Tuipulotu in the air, Blues hooker Kurt Eklund grabbed Reece and flipped him over the horizontal before slamming him to the ground.
Replayed at the request of television match official Brendon Pickerill, watching Reece flying, and then hitting the deck on his back, the potential for damage was so clear it made for sickening viewing.
But, apparently because Reece didn't end up on a stretcher or in hospital, it was just a bit of fun and games, worth no more than a penalty.
Referees boss Bryce Lawrence apologised for Williams' egregious mistakes as a TMO last week. If Lawrence thinks a move that could put a man in a wheelchair isn't worthy of more condemnation than Eklund received then something is very wrong in the state of the game.
The original model still has the edge
There's so much to admire in the Blues under coach Leon McDonald, from the unselfishness, to the defence, to the determination. There's no doubt that McDonald has brought many great attributes with him to the Blues, some the lessons that he absorbed first-hand as a player, and then as a member of the coaching staff, at the Crusaders, and some he developed himself for himself as an astute reader of the game.
But as the Blues' 43-27 loss to the Crusaders at Eden Park showed, the top guns of Super Rugby Aotearoa remain the men from the South Island.
At crucial moments when the tide was turning for the Blues the Crusaders, usually in the form of Richie Mo'unga, would be a little more accurate, a little bit calmer, and, when it really mattered, quite brilliant.
Some of us are already counting down the days to the return match in Christchurch on Anzac Day.
No need for a cape
Codie Taylor has been in great form this season, but he took it all to another level at Eden Park, where he played like Superman in a footy jersey.
He's somehow managed the remarkable feat in 2021 of being not only bigger and stronger but also faster. Put it together with an ability to pick his time to hit a pass, and the Crusaders, and the All Blacks, have a hooker who now rates with the greats of the game.
Not just the name feels familiar
Like his father Todd, Ethan Blackadder didn't take rugby too seriously until after he left school. Exactly like Todd, it was playing senior rugby while only 17 years old with grown men in Nelson that made Ethan start to see a real future for himself in the game.
Now Ethan is becoming a fixture in the Crusaders, as a pivotal crash ball runner, and as a tireless, hard as nails, tackler. There's so much to admire in his play, that at 25 he may just be entering the best years of his career.
The try of the round
In the remarkable comeback by the Chiefs in Wellington, coming back from 26-7 down to the Hurricanes at halftime to win 35-29, the highlight came in the 58th minute when Damian McKenzie, looking more at home at first-five than fullback, started running back a kick 77 metres away from the Canes' goalline.
He slipped past Jordie Barrett and Du'Plessis Kirifi, and offloaded to Chase Tiatia, who ran like a man with hellhounds on his trail for 20 metres, before passing to Samipeni Finau, who sent Brad Weber over for the try. With the conversion, the seven points put the Chiefs right back in the hunt, at 26-19. Inspiration is a wonderful thing, and from the moment Weber plunged over for his try the Chiefs were on track to break their losing streak.
The best game of the weekend
Remarkably, despite the drama in both games here, neither was as thrilling as the test in Paris, where France beat Wales, 32-30. Alerted by a text from an excited son in Britain, I caught up with a game that had everything, from daring, attacking play, to Wales being down to 13 men with two in the bin near the end, to a winning try by French fullback Brice Dulin 90 seconds after fulltime. If France don't beat Scotland with a four-try bonus point, then Wales will be Six Nations champions. (In case you were wondering, Eddie Jones' England lost 32-18 to Ireland, and finish the competition in fifth place, just ahead of Italy.)
If Wales do win the title, the question that echoes is how the hell their coach, Wayne Pivac, was never made coach of the Blues, despite winning NPC titles with Auckland in 2002 and 2003, and the Ranfurly Shield.
If you love rugby, you have to love the almanack
For rugby tragics the arrival of the 2021 Rugby Almanack feels like a beacon of happiness in what's been a grim 12 months.
The latest edition, as always, details everything you could ever want to know about men's, women's and secondary school rugby in this country in 2020. As a bonus, the Almanack provides so much extra detail, a casual glance this week revealed the only Parliamentarian in our history who has been a New Zealand Rugby Player of the Year. Take a bow Louisa Wall, the women's player of 1997.